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43 Creative Writing Exercises

Creative writing exercises for adults

Welcome to our treasure trove of creative writing exercises. Get inspired with new story ideas, have fun mastering essential writing skills, and find everything you need whether you're flying solo, or running each exercise with a group.

Table of contents

A note on running exercises remotely

A letter from your character to you, the opening sentence, make your protagonist act, overcoming writer's block, writing character arcs, sewing seeds in your writing, giving feedback to authors, the five senses, show don't tell, world building.

Easy gossiping exercise

Degrees of Emotion Game

Three birds, one line, blind date on valentine's day (exercise for adults), a success (works best for online groups), your dream holiday, time travel - child, adult, senior, focus on faces.

Onomatopeai, rhyme and alliteration

The alphabet story - creating a story as a group

A question or two, murder mystery game, the obscure movie exercise, how to hint at romantic feelings, a novel idea, creative writing prompts, creative story cards / dice, alternative christmas story, murder mystery mind map.

New Year's resolutions for a fictional character

Stephen King - Using verbs & nouns in fiction

It's the end of the world

Other Content:

7 Editing exercises  (for your first draft)

How to run the writing exercises

I run a  Creative Writing Meetup  for adults and teens in Montpellier or online every week. We start with a 5 to 20 minute exercise, followed by an hour and a half of silent writing, during which each participant focuses on their own project. Every exercise listed below has been run with the group and had any kinks ironed out.  Where the exercises specify a number of people, if you have a larger group, simply split everyone up into smaller groups as appropriate.

The solo exercises are ideal to help stimulate your mind before working on a larger project, to overcome writer’s block, or as stand-alone prompts in their own right. If a solo exercise inspires you and you wish to use it with a larger group, give every member ten minutes to complete the exercise, then ask anyone who wishes to share their work to do so in groups of 3 or 4 afterwards.

Looking for something quick to fire your imagination? Check out these  creative writing prompts for adults .

While you can enjoy the exercises solo, they are also designed for online writing groups using Zoom, WhatsApp, or Discord.

If you're running a group and follow a ' Shut Up and Write ' structure, I recommend connecting on WhatsApp (for example) first, doing the exercise together, sharing writing samples as needed. Next, write in silence for an hour and a half on your own projects, before reconnecting for a brief informal chat at the end. This works great with small remote groups and is a way to learn new techniques, gain online support, and have a productive session.

If you have a larger online group, it's worth looking into Zoom, as this has a feature called  Breakout Rooms . Breakout Rooms let you split different writers into separate rooms, which is great for group activities. The free version of Zoom has a 40 minute limit, which can be restrictive, but Zoom Pro is well worth it if you're going to use it on a regular basis. In my experience, Zoom has a better connection than Facebook chat or WhatsApp.

Letter from fictional character to the author

Spend ten minutes writing a letter from a character in your novel to  you , the author, explaining why you should write about them. This serves three purposes:

  • As you write, it helps you get into the mindset of the character. Ask yourself how they would language this letter and what they would consider important.
  • It's motivating to know that your character wants you to write about them.
  • If your goal is to publish a complete work of fiction one day, whether it be a novel, a play or a movie script, you will want to contact an agent or publisher. This helps you practice in an easy, safe way.

If you're doing this exercise with a group of teens or adults, and some of the group haven't already started working on their masterpiece, they can instead choose any fictional novel they love. Ask participants to imagine that a character within the book wrote to the author in the first place to ask them to write their story. How did they plead their case?

First sentence of books

The opening sentence has to grab the reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. Many authors achieve this by starting with an action scene. In modern literature, it's best to avoid starting with someone waking up, or a description of the weather. In this exercise the task is to write an opening sentence either to a book you're currently writing, or simply for an imaginary piece of literature.  Here are some of my favourite opening sentences to get you going:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

George Orwell , 1984

The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship.

Helene Wecker , The Golem and the Djinni

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

It wasn't a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.

Diana Gabaldon , Outlander

You better not never tell nobody but God.

Alice Walker , The Color Purple

The cage was finished.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez ,  Balthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon

Imagine that you are living your life out of order: Lunch before breakfast, marriage before your first kiss.

Audrey Niffenegger ,  The Time Traveler's Wife

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Douglas Adams ,  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

There are a plethora of ways you can start a book, however two ways that help engage the reader immediately are:

  • Set the scene in as few words as possible, so the reader immediately knows what's happening and wants to know what happens next.  The scene must be original and create a vivid image in the reader's mind.
  • Surprise the reader with an unusual event or usual point of view.

Spend 5 minutes working on your own opening sentence, then share it with the other participants.

Exercise for 2 writers, or can be done solo.

Make your characters act

According to John Gardner:

"Failure to recognise that the central character must act, not simply be acted upon, is the single most common mistake in the fiction of beginners."

Spend 5 minutes writing a scene where the protagonist is passive in a conversation with one other character. It could be that the other character says something dramatic, and the protagonist just listens, or it could be anything else of your choice!

Once the 5 minutes is up, swap papers with another writer. If you're using Zoom, or working online, send it to each other in a private chat. Now the other person spends 8 minutes rewriting the scene to make the protagonist as active as possible. This might include:

Read both scenes together. Which makes you want to keep on reading?

If you're doing this as a solo writing exercise, simply complete both parts yourself.

  • Showing the emotion this evokes.
  • Getting them to disagree with the other character.
  • Showing how they respond physically (whether it's as a physical manifestation of how they feel, or a dramatic gesture to make a point).

Overcoming writer's block

Are you staring at a blank page or stuck for any story ideas? This exercise will help anyone who's experiencing writer's block with a particular piece of writing. If this isn't you, that's great, others will value your input!

If anyone has a particular scene they're stuck with (a pool of blood on the floor they have no explanation for, a reason why the rich lady just walked into a particular pub, etc.) then at the start of the exercise everyone briefly describes their scenes (if working online with a large group, typing it into the chat might be best). Everyone then chooses one scene to use as a writing prompt to write a short story for 10-15 minutes.

Afterwards, split into small groups if necessary, and read out how you completed someone else's writing prompt. As everyone listens to everyone else's ideas, this can be a wonderful source of inspiration and also improves your writing. As an alternative solo exercise, try free writing. With free writing, simply write as quickly as you can on the topic without editing or censoring yourself - just let your creative juices flow. If you're not sure what happens next, brainstorm options on the page, jot down story ideas, or just put, "I don't know what happens next." Keep going and ideas will come.

Character arc

There are several different types of character arc in a novel, the 3 most common being:

For this exercise choose either a positive or negative character arc. Spend 8 minutes writing a scene from the start of a novel, then 8 minutes writing a scene towards the end of a novel showing how the character has developed between the two points. Don't worry about including how the character has changed, you can leave that to the imagination.

The point here is to capture the essence of a character, as they will be the same, but show their development.

  • Positive  - Where a character develops and grows during the novel. Perhaps they start unhappy or weak and end happy or powerful.
  • Negative  - Where a character gets worse during a novel. Perhaps they become ill or give in to evil tendencies as the novel progresses.
  • Flat  - In a flat character arc the character themself doesn't change much, however the world around them does. This could be overthrowing a great injustice, for example.

Sewing seeds in writing

In this exercise, we will look at how to sew seeds. No, not in your garden, but in your story. Seeds are the tiny hints and indicators that something is going on, which influence a reader's perceptions on an often unconscious level. They're important, as if you spring a surprise twist on your readers without any warning, it can seem unbelievable. Sew seeds that lead up to the event, so the twists and turns are still surprising, but make intuitive sense. Groups : Brainstorm major plot twists that might happen towards the end of the novel and share it in a Zoom chat, or on pieces of paper. Choose one twist each. Individuals : Choose one of the following plot twists:   -  Your friend is actually the secret son of the king.   -  Unreliable narrator - the narrator turns out to be villain.   -  The monster turns out to be the missing woman the narrator is seeking.   -  The man she is about to marry happens to already have a wife and three kids.

Write for ten minutes and give subtle hints as to what the plot twist is. This is an exercise in subtlety. Remember, when the twist occurs, it should still come as a surprise.

Animal exercise

This is a fun writing activity for a small group. You’ve found a magic potion labelled ‘Cat Chat’ and when you drink it, you turn into whichever animal you’re thinking about; but there’s a problem, it also picks up on the brainwaves of other people near you!

Everyone writes down an animal in secret and then reveals it to the other writers.  The spell will turn you into a creature that combines elements of all the animals.  Each person then spends 5 minutes writing down what happens when they drink the potion.

After the 5 minutes is up, everyone shares their story with the other participants.

If you enjoy this exercise, then you may also want to check out our  Fantasy and Sci-Fi writing prompts  full of world building, magic, and character development prompts..

I remember

Joe Brainard wrote a novel called:  I Remember It contains a collection of paragraphs all starting with “I remember”.  This is the inspiration for this exercise, and if you’re stuck for what to write, is a great way to get the mental gears turning.  Simply write “I remember” and continue with the first thing that pops into your head.

Spend 5 minutes writing a short collection of “I remember” stories.

Here are a couple of examples from Joe Brainard’s novel:

“I remember not understanding why people on the other side of the world didn't fall off.”

“I remember waking up somewhere once and there was a horse staring me in the face.”

Giving constructive feedback to authors

If you're running a workshop for more experienced adult authors and have at least an hour, this is a good one to use. This is the longest exercise on this page, but I felt it important enough to include.

Give each author the option to bring a piece of their own work. This should be double spaced and a maximum of 3 pages long. If you're running a workshop where not everyone is likely to bring a manuscript, ask everyone who wants to bring one to print two copies each. If someone forgets but has a laptop with them, the reader can always use their laptop.

Print out a few copies and hand them around to everyone in the workshop of the guide on: 'How to give constructive feedback to writers'

Each author who brought a sample with them then gives them to one other person to review. They write their name on the manuscript in a certain colour pen, then add any comments to it before passing it to a second person who does the same (commenting on the comments if they agree or disagree).

Then allow 5 minutes for everyone to discuss the feedback they've received, ensuring they are giving constructive feedback.

Giovanni Battista Manerius - The Five Senses

Painting by Giovanni Battista Manerius -  The Five Senses

Choose a scene and write it for 5 minutes focusing on one sense, NOT sight. Choose between:

Hearing  Taste Smell Touch

This can be internal as well as external (I heard my heartbeat thudding in my ears, or I smelt my own adrenaline).

After the 5 minutes stop and everyone reads it out loud to each other. Now write for another 5 minutes and continue the other person's story, but do NOT use sight OR the sense they used.

You can use any sense to communicate the essentials, just focus on creating emotions and conveying the story with the specific sense(s).

If you need some writing prompts, here are possible scenes that involve several senses:

  • Climbing through an exotic jungle
  • Having an argument that becomes a fight
  • A cat's morning
  • Talking to someone you're attracted to

2 or 3 people

Show don't tell your story

A lot of writing guides will advise you to, "Show, don't tell". What does this actually mean?

If you want to evoke an emotional reaction from your reader, showing them what is happening is a great way to do so.  You can approach this in several ways:

Split up into pairs and each person writes down a short scene from a story where they "tell" it.  After this, pass the description of the scene to your partner and they then have 5 minutes to rewrite it to "show" what happened.  If there are an odd number of participants, make one group of three, with each person passing their scene clockwise, so everyone has a new scene to show.  After the 5 minutes, for small groups everyone reads their new description to everyone else, or for large groups, each person just reads their new scene to their partner.

  • Avoid internal dialogue (thinking), instead have your protagonist interact with other people, or have a physical reaction to something that shows how s/he feels.  Does their heart beat faster?  Do they notice the smell of their own adrenaline?  Do they step backwards, or lean forwards?
  • Instead of using an adjective like creepy, e.g. "Mary entered the creepy house", show why the house is creepy through description and in the way the protagonist responds - "The light streamed through the filthy skylight, highlighting the decomposing body of a rat resting on top of it.  As Mary stepped inside, she felt a gust of freezing air brush past her. She turned, but there was nothing there..."

Visual writing prompts

World building is the art of conveying the magic of living in a different world, whether it's a spaceship, a medieval castle, a boat, or simply someone's living room. To master world building, it's not necessary to know every intricate detail, rather to convey the experience of what it would be like to live there.

Choose one of the above images as a prompt and spend 10 minutes writing a scene from the perspective of someone who is seeing it for the first time. Now, move your character six months forward and imagine they've spent the last six months living or working there. Write another scene (perhaps with an additional character) using the image as a background, with the events of the scene as the main action.

Click the above image for a close-up.

Gossiping about a character as if they're a friend.

Easy to gossip with friends about a character

Judy Blume says that she tells her family about her characters as if they’re real people. 

Chris Claremont said, "For me, writing the 'X-Men' was easy - is easy. I know these people, they're my friends." 

Today’s exercise has 2 parts. First, spend 5 minutes jotting down some facts about a character you’ve invented that might come up if you were telling your friends about them. Either choose a character in something you’ve already written, or invent one from scratch now.

Answer the questions:

What are they up to? How are they? What would you say if you were gossiping about them?

Then split up into groups of 4 to 6 writers. 2 volunteers from each group then role-play talking about their character as if they were a friend (perhaps another character in the story).  The other participants will role-play a group of friends gossiping about the character behind their back and ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, invent it!

Degrees of emotion

This is based on an acting game, to help actors understand how to perform with different degrees of emotion.

Ask everyone to write the following 4 emotions:

For groups of 5 or less, write down numbers starting with 1 and going up until everyone has a number, then give them out in order. For groups of 6 or more, divide groups into 3's, 4's or 5's.

Each person has to write a scene where the protagonist is alone and is only allowed to say a single word, e.g. "Banana".  The writer with number 1 should write the scene with a very low level of the emotion (e.g. happiness), number 2 increases the intensity a bit and the highest number writes a scene with the most intense emotion you can possibly imagine.

Once each writer has written about happiness, rotate the numbers one or two spaces, then move onto anger, then fear, then sadness.

It can help to give everyone numbers showing the intensity of the emotions to write about at the start of the exercise, in which case you may wish to print either the Word or PDF file, then use the ones corresponding to 3, 4 or 5 writers.

PDF

Everyone shares their scene with the other course participants.

Kill three birds with one stone

The first paragraph of a surprising number of best-selling novels serves multiple purposes. These are to:

  • Establish a goal
  • Set the scene
  • Develop a character

Nearly every chapter in a novel also serves all three purposes. Instead of establishing a goal though, the protagonist either moves towards it, or encounters an obstacle that hinders them from achieving it.

Some books manage to meet all three purposes with their opening lines, for example:  

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

J.K. Rowling ,  Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone  

A little more than one hundred days into the fortieth year of her confinement, Dajeil Gelian was visited in her lonely tower overlooking the sea by an avatar of the great ship that was her home.

Iain M. Banks ,  Excession  

"We should start back," Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them.

George R.R. Martin ,  A Game of Thrones

For this exercise write a sentence or short paragraph that serves all three purposes. If you're already writing a novel, then see if you can do this for the first line in a chapter. If not, choose any combination from the following table:

Valentine's Day Book

In pairs one writer spends a minute or two describing a character they're writing about, or alternatively they can describe a celebrity or someone from a work of fiction.  The next writer then describes their character.

The story is that these 2 characters (or in my case, person and alien, as I'm writing a sci-fi) have accidentally ended up on a blind date with each other. Perhaps the waiter seated them in the wrong location, perhaps it's an actual blind date, or perhaps they met in some other fashion the writers can determine.

Now spend 10 minutes discussing what happens next!

Winning a race

This exercise works best for online groups, via Zoom, for example.  The instructions to give are:

"In a few words describe a success in your life and what it felt like to achieve it. It can be a small victory or a large one."

Share a personal example of your own (mine was watching my homeschooled sons sing in an opera together).

"Once you have one (small or large), write it in the chat.

The writing exercise is then to choose someone else's victory to write about for 10 minutes, as if it was the end of your own book.

If you want to write for longer, imagine how that book would start. Write the first part of the book with the ending in mind."

This is great for reminding people of a success in their lives, and also helps everyone connect and discover something about each other.

Dream holiday in France

You’re going on a dream holiday together, but always disagree with each other. To avoid conflict, rather than discuss what you want to do, you’ve decided that each of you will choose a different aspect of the holiday as follows:

  • Choose where you’ll be going – your favourite holiday destination.
  • Choose what your main fun activity will be on the holiday.
  • Decide what mode of travel you’ll use to get there.
  • If there’s a 4 th  person, choose what you’ll eat on the holiday and what you’ll be wearing.

Decide who gets to choose what at random. Each of you then writes down your dream holiday destination/activity/travel/food & clothes in secret.  Next spend 5 minutes discussing your dream holiday and add any other details you’d like to include, particularly if you’re passionate about doing something in real life.

Finally, everyone spends another 5 minutes writing down a description of the holiday, then shares it with the others.

Writing haiku

A haiku is a traditional Japanese form of non-rhyming poetry whose short form makes it ideal for a simple writing exercise.

They are traditionally structured in 3 lines, where the first line is 5 syllables, the second line is 7 syllables, and the third line is 5 syllables again. Haiku tend to focus on themes of nature and deep concepts that can be expressed simply.

A couple of examples:

A summer river being crossed how pleasing with sandals in my hands! Yosa Buson , a haiku master poet from the 18 th  Century.

And one of mine:

When night-time arrives Stars come out, breaking the dark You can see the most

Martin Woods

Spend up to 10 minutes writing a haiku.  If you get stuck with the 5-7-5 syllable rule, then don’t worry, the overall concept is more important!

See  How to write a haiku  for more details and examples.

Writing a limerick

Unlike a haiku, which is profound and sombre, a limerick is a light-hearted, fun rhyming verse.

Here are a couple of examples:

A wonderful bird is the pelican. His bill can hold more than his beli-can He can take in his beak Food enough for a week But I'm damned if I see how the heli-can.

Dixon Lanier Merritt, 1910

There was a young lady named Bright, Whose speed was far faster than light; She started one day In a relative way, And returned on the previous night.

Arthur Henry Reginald Buller in  Punch,  1923

The 1 st , 2 nd  and 5 th  line all rhyme, as do the 3 rd  and 4 th  line.  The overall number of syllables isn’t important, but the 3 rd  and 4 th  lines should be shorter than the others.

Typically, the 1 st  line introduces the character, often with “There was”, or “There once was”. The rest of the verse tells their story.

Spend 10 minutes writing a limerick.

Adult time travel

Imagine that your future self as an old man/woman travels back in time to meet you, the adult you are today.  Alternatively, you as a child travels forward in time to meet yourself as an adult.  Or perhaps both happen, so the child you, adult you, and senior you are all together at the same time.  In story form write down what happens next.

Participants then share their story with other writers either in small groups, or to the whole group.

Solo exercise

Describing a character

One challenge writers face is describing a character. A common mistake is to focus too much on the physical features, e.g. "She had brown eyes, curly brown hair and was five foot six inches tall."

The problem with this is it doesn't reveal anything about the character's personality, or the relationship between your protagonist and the character. Your reader is therefore likely to quickly forget what someone looks like.  When describing characters, it's therefore best to:

  • Animate them - it's rare that someone's sitting for a portrait when your protagonist first meets them and whether they're talking or walking, it's likely that they're moving in some way.
  • Use metaphors or similes  - comparing physical features to emotionally charged items conjures both an image and a sense of who someone is.
  • Involve your protagonist  - if your protagonist is interacting with a character, make it personal.  How does your protagonist view this person?  Incorporate the description as part of the description.
  • Only give information your protagonist knows  - they may know if someone is an adult, or a teenager, but they won't know that someone is 37 years old, for example.

Here are three examples of character descriptions that leave no doubt how the protagonist feels.

“If girls could spit venom, it'd be through their eyes.” S.D. Lawendowski,  Snapped

"And Ronan was everything that was left: molten eyes and a smile made for war." Maggie Stiefvater,  The Dream Thieves

"His mouth was such a post office of a mouth that he had a mechanical appearance of smiling." Charles Dickens

Spend 5 minutes writing a character introduction that is animated, uses metaphors or similes and involves your protagonist.

If working with a group, then form small groups of 3 or 4 and share your description with the rest of the group.

Onomatopeai, rhyme and alliteration

Onomatopeai, rhyme or alliteration.

Today's session is all about sound.

Several authors recommend reading your writing out loud after you've written it to be sure it sounds natural.   Philip Pullman  even goes as far as to say:

"When I’m writing, I’m more conscious of the sound, actually, than the meaning. I know what the rhythm of the sentence is going to be before I know what the words are going to be in it."

For today's exercise, choose the name of a song and write for 10 minutes as if that's the title for a short story. Focus on how your writing sounds and aim to include at least one onomatopoeia, rhyme or alliteration.  At the end of the 10 minutes, read it out loud to yourself, or to the group.

Alliterations

An alliteration example from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, The furrow followed free; We were the first that ever burst Into that silent sea.

Onomatopoeias

Buzz, woof, quack, baa, crash, purr, beep, belch,...

alphabet story

This is a novel way to write a story as a group, one word at a time.  The first person starts the story that begins with any word starting with “A”, the next person continues the story with a word starting with “B”, and so on.

Keep going round until you have completed the alphabet.  Ideally it will all be one sentence, but if you get stuck, start a new sentence.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t make complete sense!

It can be tricky to remember the alphabet when under pressure, so you may wish to print it out a couple of times, so the storytellers can see it if they need to, this is particularly helpful if you have dyslexics in the group.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Here’s an example of an alphabet story:

A Band Can Dance Each Friday, Ghostly Hauntings In Jail Kill Lucky Men, Nobody Or Perhaps Quiet Rats, Still That Unifies Villains Who X-Ray Your Zebras.

As I mentioned, it doesn’t need to make sense!

Small or large groups

1 or 2 questions

The standard format in our group is a short writing exercise followed by an hour and a half of silent writing on our projects.

At one point I felt like we'd done a lot of small group exercises, and wanted to gain an insight into what everyone was working on, so we did the following exercise instead:

Go round the table and ask everyone to briefly talk about their writing.  Each person then asks one or two yes/no questions.

Everyone responds either by raising their hand for 'yes' or shaking their heads for 'no'. You can also leap up and down to indicate a very strong 'yes'.

Questions can be about anything, and you can use them either to help guide your writing or to help find other people in the group who have similar interests.

Here are some random examples you might ask:

  • I want to write a romance novel and am considering setting it in Paris, a traditional romantic setting, or Liverpool which is a less obvious setting. Who thinks Liverpool would be best?
  • I need to know more about the life of a farmer. Has anyone got farming experience who I can interview in exchange for a drink?
  • My character gets fired and that night goes back to his office and steals 35 computers. Does that sound realistic as the premise of a story?

This works best when you give participants some advance notice, so they have time to think of a question.

Groups of 3 or 4

Murder mystery

This exercise takes 20-30 minutes and allows participants to create a murder mystery outline together.

Phase 1 (3 minutes)

  • Split into groups of 3 or 4
  • Decide as a group where the murder occurs (e.g. the opera house, a bar, a casino)
  • Decide one person who will write the details of the victim and the murder itself.  Everyone else writes the details of one suspect each.
  • The ‘victim author’ then invents a few extra details about the scene of the crime, who the victim was (a teenage punk, an adult opera singer, etc.) and the murder weapon and summarises this to the others.

Phase 2 (10 minutes)

Each person then writes a police report as if they are either describing the scene of the crime, or recording the notes from their interview with a single suspect:

Write the following:

  • 1 line description of the victim.
  • When they were last seen by a group of witnesses (and what they were doing).
  • How the murder occurred in more detail based on the evidence available.

Write the following (from the perspective of the investigator):

  • 1 line description of the suspect
  • What they said during the interview (including what they claim to have doing when the murder occurs).
  • A possible motivation (as determined by the police from other witnesses).

Phase 3 (5 minutes)

  • Each person reads out their police reports to the other members of their small group
  • As a group, decide who the murderer was and what actually happened

See more ideas on  creating murder mystery party games

Obscure movie

Pick a famous movie and spend 5 minutes writing a scene from it from an unusual perspective.  Your aim is to achieve a balance between being too obscure and making it too obvious.  Feel free to add internal dialogue.

At the end of the 5 minutes, everyone reads their movie scene to the others and all the other participants see if they can guess what the movie is.

How to hint at romantic feelings

Write a scene with two people in a group, where you hint that one is romantically interested in the other, but the feelings aren’t reciprocated.

The goal of this exercise is to practice subtlety. Imagine you are setting a scene for the future where the characters feelings will become more important. Choose a situation like a work conference, meeting with a group of friends, etc. How do you indicate how the characters feel without them saying it in words?

Some tips for hinting at romantic feelings:

  • Make the characters nervous and shy.
  • Your protagonist leans forward.
  • Asks deeper questions and listens intently.
  • Finds ways to be close together.
  • Mirrors their gestures.
  • Gives lots of compliments.
  • Makes eye contact, then looks away.
  • Other people seem invisible to your protagonist.

Novel idea

Take it in turns to tell everyone else about a current project you’re working on (a book, screenplay, short story, etc.)

The other writers then brainstorm ideas for related stories you could write, or directions your project could take.  There are no right or wrong suggestions and the intention is to focus on big concepts, not little details.

This whole exercise takes around 15 minutes.

Exercise for groups of 3-5

Creative writing

If you're in larger group, split up into groups of 3 or 4 people.

Everyone writes the first line of a story in the Zoom chat, or on paper. Other people can then choose this line as a writing prompt.

For this exercise:

  • Say who the protagonist is.
  • Reveal their motivation.
  • Introduce any other characters

Once everyone's written a prompt, each author chooses a prompt (preferably someone eles's, but it can be your own if you feel really inspired by it.)  Then write for 10 minutes using this prompt. See if you can reveal who the protagonist is, what their motivation is (it can be a small motivation for a particular scene, it doesn't have to be a huge life goal), and introduce at least one new character.

Take turns reading out your stories to each other.

  • Write in the first person.
  • Have the protagonist interacting with an object or something in nature.
  • The challenge is to create intrigue that makes the reader want to know more with just a single line.

Creative story cards for students

Cut up a piece of paper and write one word on each of the pieces of paper, as follows:

Give each participant a couple of pieces of paper at random.  The first person says the first sentence of a story and they must use their first word as part of that sentence.  The second person then continues the story and must include their word in it, and so on.  Go round the group twice to complete the story.

You can also do this creative writing exercise with story dice, your own choice of words, or by asking participants to write random words down themselves, then shuffling all the cards together.

Alternative Christmas Story

Every Christmas adults tell kids stories about Santa Claus. In this exercise you write a Christmas story from an alternative dimension.

What if every Christmas Santa didn't fly around the world delivering presents on his sleigh pulled by reindeer? What if gnomes or aliens delivered the presents? Or perhaps it was the gnomes who are trying to emulate the humans? Or some other Christmas tradition entirely that we humans have never heard of!

Group writing exercise

If you're working with a group, give everyone a couple of minutes to write two possible themes for the new Christmas story. Each theme should be 5 words or less.

Shuffle the paper and distribute them at random. If you're working online, everyone types the themes into the Zoom or group chat. Each writer then spends 10 minutes writing a short story for children based on one of the two themes, or their own theme if they really want to.

If working alone, choose your own theme and spend 15 minutes writing a short story on it. See if you can create the magic of Christmas from another world!

Murder Mystery mind map

In a murder mystery story or courtroom drama, there's often conflicting information and lots of links between characters. A mind map is an ideal way to illustrate how everything ties together.

Split into groups of 3 or 4 people each and place a blank piece of A3 paper (double the size of A4) in the middle of each group. Discuss between you who the victim is and write their name in the middle of the piece of paper. Then brainstorm information about the murder, for example:

Feel free to expand out from any of these, e.g. to include more information on the different characters involved.

The idea is that  everyone writes at the same time!   Obviously, you can discuss ideas, but anyone can dive in and write their ideas on the mind map.

  • Who was the victim? (job, appearance, hobbies, etc.)
  • Who did the victim know?
  • What were their possible motivations?
  • What was the murder weapon?
  • What locations are significant to the plot?

New Year’s resolutions for a fictional character

List of ideas for a fictional character

If you’re writing a piece of fiction, ask yourself how your protagonist would react to an everyday situation. This can help you to gain a deeper insight into who they are.

One way to do this is to imagine what their New Year’s resolutions would be.

If completing this exercise with a group, limit it to 3 to 5 resolutions per person. If some participants are historical fiction or non-fiction writers, they instead pick a celebrity and either write what their resolutions  will  be, or what their resolutions  should  be, their choice.

Verb Noun Fiction Exercise (Inspired by Stephen King)

List of ideas for a fictional character

Stephen King said, "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops."

He also said, "Take any noun, put it with any verb, and you have a sentence. It never fails. Rocks explode. Jane transmits. Mountains float. These are all perfect sentences. Many such thoughts make little rational sense, but even the stranger ones (Plums deify!) have a kind of poetic weight that’s nice."

In this fiction writing exercise, start by brainstorming (either individually or collectively) seven verbs on seven different pieces of paper. Put those aside for later. Now brainstorm seven nouns. Randomly match the nouns and verbs so you have seven pairs. Choose a pair and write a piece of fiction for ten minutes. Avoid using any adverbs.

It’s the end of the world

End of the world

It’s the end of the world!  For 5 minutes either:

If working as a team, then after the 5 minutes is up each writer reads their description out to the other participants.

  • Describe how the world’s going to end, creating evocative images using similes or metaphors as you wish and tell the story from a global perspective, or
  • Describe how you spend your final day before the world is destroyed.  Combine emotion and action to engage the reader.

7 Editing Exercises

For use after your first draft

Editing first draft

I’ve listened to a lot of masterclasses on writing by successful authors and they all say variants of your first draft won’t be good and that’s fine. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman summarise it the best:

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”  

Terry Pratchett

“For me, it’s always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I’m doing in a first draft isn’t important. One way you get through the wall is by convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter. No one is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonising over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed… For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.”

Neil Gaiman

Once you’ve written your first draft, it will need editing to develop the plot, enhance the characters, and improve each scene in a myriad of ways – small and large. These seven creative editing exercises are designed to help with this stage of the process.

The First Sentence

Read the first paragraph of the novel, in particular the first sentence. Does it launch the reader straight into the action? According to  On Writing and Worldbuilding  by Timothy Hickson,  “The most persuasive opening lines are succinct, and not superfluous. To do this, it is often effective to limit it to a single central idea… This does not need to be the most important element, but it should be a central element that is interesting.” Ask yourself what element your opening sentence encapsulates and whether it’s the best one to capture your readers’ attention.

Consistency

Consistency is crucial in creative writing, whether it’s in relation to location, objects, or people.

It’s also crucial for personality, emotions and motivation.

Look at scenes where your protagonist makes an important decision. Are their motivations clear? Do any scenes force them to choose between two conflicting morals? If so, do you explore this? Do their emotions fit with what’s happened in previous scenes?

As you edit your manuscript, keep the characters’ personality, emotions and motivation in mind. If their behaviour is inconsistent, either edit it for consistency, or have someone comment on their strange behaviour or be surprised by it. Inconsistent behaviour can reveal that a character is keeping a secret, or is under stress, so characters don’t always need to be consistent. But when they’re not, there has to be a reason.  

Show Don’t Tell One

This exercise is the first in  The Emotional Craft of Fiction  by Donald Maass. It’s a writing guide with a plethora of editing exercises designed to help you reenergize your writing by thinking of what your character is feeling, and giving you the tools to make your reader feel something.  

  • Select a moment in your story when your protagonist is moved, unsettled, or disturbed… Write down all the emotions inherent in this moment, both obvious and hidden.
  • Next, considering what he is feeling, write down how your protagonist can act out. What is the biggest thing your protagonist can do? What would be explosive, out of bounds, or offensive? What would be symbolic? … Go sideways, underneath, or ahead. How can your protagonist show us a feeling we don’t expect to see?
  • Finally, go back and delete all the emotions you wrote down at the beginning of this exercise. Let actions and spoken words do the work. Do they feel too big, dangerous, or over-the-top? Use them anyway. Others will tell you if you’ve gone too far, but more likely, you haven’t gone far enough.

Show Don’t Tell Two

Search for the following words in your book:

Whenever these words occur, ask yourself if you can demonstrate how your characters feel, rather than simply stating it. For each occasion, can you use physiological descriptors (a racing heart), actions (taking a step backwards) or dialogue to express what’s just happened instead? Will this enhance the scene and engage the reader more?

After The Action

Find a scene where your characters disagree – in particular a scene where your protagonist argues with friends or allies. What happens next?

It can be tempting to wrap up the action with a quick resolution. But what if a resentment lingers and mistrust builds? This creates a more interesting story arc and means a resolution can occur later, giving the character development a real dynamic.

Review how you resolve the action and see if you can stretch out the emotions for a more satisfying read.

Eliminating the Fluff

Ensure that the words used don’t detract from the enormity of the events your character is going through. Can you delete words like, “Quite”, “Little”, or “Rather”? 

Of “Very” Florence King once wrote: “ 'Very' is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen .” Delete it, or replace the word after it with a stronger word, which makes “Very” redundant.

“That,” is another common word used in creative writing which can often be deleted. Read a sentence as is, then reread it as if you deleted, “That”. If the meaning is the same, delete it.

Chapter Endings

When talking about chapter endings, James Patterson said,  “At the end, something has to propel you into the next chapter.”

Read how each of your chapters finish and ask yourself does it either:

  • End on a cliff hanger? (R.L. Stine likes to finish every chapter in this method).
  • End on a natural pause (for example, you’re changing point of view or location).

Review how you wrap up each of your chapters. Do you end at the best point in your story? Can you add anticipation to cliff hangers? Will you leave your readers wanting more?  

The editing exercises are designed to be completed individually.

With the others, I've always run them as part of a creative writing group, where there's no teacher and we're all equal participants, therefore I keep any 'teaching' aspect to a minimum, preferring them to be prompts to generate ideas before everyone settles down to do the silent writing. We've recently gone online and if you run a group yourself, whether online or in person, you're welcome to use these exercises for free!

The times given are suggestions only and I normally get a feel for how everyone's doing when time's up and if it's obvious that everyone's still in the middle of a discussion, then I give them longer.  Where one group's in the middle of a discussion, but everyone else has finished, I sometimes have a 'soft start' to the silent writing, and say, "We're about to start the hour and a half of silent writing now, but if you're in the middle of a discussion, feel free to finish it first".

This way everyone gets to complete the discussion, but no-one's waiting for ages.  It's also important to emphasise that there's no wrong answers when being creative.

Still looking for more? Check out these  creative writing prompts , or our dedicated  Sci-Fi and Fantasy creative writing prompts .

If you've enjoyed these creative writing exercises, please share them on social media, or link to them from your blog.

Creative writing games

Writing prompts for adults

Fantasy and sci-fi prompts

Create a murder mystery game

Murder mystery riddles

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105 Creative Writing Exercises To Get You Writing Again

You know that feeling when you just don’t feel like writing? Sometimes you can’t even get a word down on paper. It’s the most frustrating thing ever to a writer, especially when you’re working towards a deadline. The good news is that we have a list of 105 creative writing exercises to help you get motivated and start writing again!

What are creative writing exercises?

Creative writing exercises are short writing activities (normally around 10 minutes) designed to get you writing. The goal of these exercises is to give you the motivation to put words onto a blank paper. These words don’t need to be logical or meaningful, neither do they need to be grammatically correct or spelt correctly. The whole idea is to just get you writing something, anything. The end result of these quick creative writing exercises is normally a series of notes, bullet points or ramblings that you can, later on, use as inspiration for a bigger piece of writing such as a story or a poem. 

Good creative writing exercises are short, quick and easy to complete. You shouldn’t need to think too much about your style of writing or how imaginative your notes are. Just write anything that comes to mind, and you’ll be on the road to improving your creative writing skills and beating writer’s block . 

Use the generator below to get a random creative writing exercise idea:

List of 105+ Creative Writing Exercises

Here are over 105 creative writing exercises to give your brain a workout and help those creative juices flow again:

  • Set a timer for 60 seconds. Now write down as many words or phrases that come to mind at that moment.
  • Pick any colour you like. Now start your sentence with this colour. For example, Orange, the colour of my favourite top. 
  • Open a book or dictionary on a random page. Pick a random word. You can close your eyes and slowly move your finger across the page. Now, write a paragraph with this random word in it. You can even use an online dictionary to get random words:

dictionary-random-word-imagine-forest

  • Create your own alphabet picture book or list. It can be A to Z of animals, food, monsters or anything else you like!
  • Using only the sense of smell, describe where you are right now.
  • Take a snack break. While eating your snack write down the exact taste of that food. The goal of this creative writing exercise is to make your readers savour this food as well.
  • Pick a random object in your room and write a short paragraph from its point of view. For example, how does your pencil feel? What if your lamp had feelings?
  • Describe your dream house. Where would you live one day? Is it huge or tiny? 
  • Pick two different TV shows, movies or books that you like. Now swap the main character. What if Supergirl was in Twilight? What if SpongeBob SquarePants was in The Flash? Write a short scene using this character swap as inspiration.
  • What’s your favourite video game? Write at least 10 tips for playing this game.
  • Pick your favourite hobby or sport. Now pretend an alien has just landed on Earth and you need to teach it this hobby or sport. Write at least ten tips on how you would teach this alien.
  • Use a random image generator and write a paragraph about the first picture you see.

random image generator

  • Write a letter to your favourite celebrity or character. What inspires you most about them? Can you think of a memorable moment where this person’s life affected yours? We have this helpful guide on writing a letter to your best friend for extra inspiration.
  • Write down at least 10 benefits of writing. This can help motivate you and beat writer’s block.
  • Complete this sentence in 10 different ways: Patrick waited for the school bus and…
  • Pick up a random book from your bookshelf and go to page 9. Find the ninth sentence on that page. Use this sentence as a story starter.
  • Create a character profile based on all the traits that you hate. It might help to list down all the traits first and then work on describing the character.
  • What is the scariest or most dangerous situation you have ever been in? Why was this situation scary? How did you cope at that moment?
  • Pretend that you’re a chat show host and you’re interviewing your favourite celebrity. Write down the script for this conversation.
  • Using extreme detail, write down what you have been doing for the past one hour today. Think about your thoughts, feelings and actions during this time.
  • Make a list of potential character names for your next story. You can use a fantasy name generator to help you.
  • Describe a futuristic setting. What do you think the world would look like in 100 years time?
  • Think about a recent argument you had with someone. Would you change anything about it? How would you resolve an argument in the future?
  • Describe a fantasy world. What kind of creatures live in this world? What is the climate like? What everyday challenges would a typical citizen of this world face? You can use this fantasy world name generator for inspiration.
  • At the flip of a switch, you turn into a dragon. What kind of dragon would you be? Describe your appearance, special abilities, likes and dislikes. You can use a dragon name generator to give yourself a cool dragon name.
  • Pick your favourite book or a famous story. Now change the point of view. For example, you could rewrite the fairytale , Cinderella. This time around, Prince Charming could be the main character. What do you think Prince Charming was doing, while Cinderella was cleaning the floors and getting ready for the ball?
  • Pick a random writing prompt and use it to write a short story. Check out this collection of over 300 writing prompts for kids to inspire you. 
  • Write a shopping list for a famous character in history. Imagine if you were Albert Einstein’s assistant, what kind of things would he shop for on a weekly basis?
  • Create a fake advertisement poster for a random object that is near you right now. Your goal is to convince the reader to buy this object from you.
  • What is the worst (or most annoying) sound that you can imagine? Describe this sound in great detail, so your reader can understand the pain you feel when hearing this sound.
  • What is your favourite song at the moment? Pick one line from this song and describe a moment in your life that relates to this line.
  •  You’re hosting an imaginary dinner party at your house. Create a list of people you would invite, and some party invites. Think about the theme of the dinner party, the food you will serve and entertainment for the evening. 
  • You are waiting to see your dentist in the waiting room. Write down every thought you are having at this moment in time. 
  • Make a list of your greatest fears. Try to think of at least three fears. Now write a short story about a character who is forced to confront one of these fears. 
  • Create a ‘Wanted’ poster for a famous villain of your choice. Think about the crimes they have committed, and the reward you will give for having them caught. 
  • Imagine you are a journalist for the ‘Imagine Forest Times’ newspaper. Your task is to get an exclusive interview with the most famous villain of all time. Pick a villain of your choice and interview them for your newspaper article. What questions would you ask them, and what would their responses be?
  •  In a school playground, you see the school bully hurting a new kid. Write three short stories, one from each perspective in this scenario (The bully, the witness and the kid getting bullied).
  • You just won $10 million dollars. What would you spend this money on?
  • Pick a random animal, and research at least five interesting facts about this animal. Write a short story centred around one of these interesting facts. 
  • Pick a global issue that you are passionate about. This could be climate change, black lives matters, women’s rights etc. Now create a campaign poster for this global issue. 
  • Write an acrostic poem about an object near you right now (or even your own name). You could use a poetry idea generator to inspire you.
  • Imagine you are the head chef of a 5-star restaurant. Recently the business has slowed down. Your task is to come up with a brand-new menu to excite customers. Watch this video prompt on YouTube to inspire you.
  • What is your favourite food of all time? Imagine if this piece of food was alive, what would it say to you?
  • If life was one big musical, what would you be singing about right now? Write the lyrics of your song. 
  • Create and describe the most ultimate villain of all time. What would their traits be? What would their past look like? Will they have any positive traits?
  • Complete this sentence in at least 10 different ways: Every time I look out of the window, I…
  • You have just made it into the local newspaper, but what for? Write down at least five potential newspaper headlines . Here’s an example, Local Boy Survives a Deadly Illness.
  • If you were a witch or a wizard, what would your specialist area be and why? You might want to use a Harry Potter name generator or a witch name generator for inspiration.
  • What is your favourite thing to do on a Saturday night? Write a short story centred around this activity. 
  • Your main character has just received the following items: A highlighter, a red cap, a teddy bear and a fork. What would your character do with these items? Can you write a story using these items? 
  • Create a timeline of your own life, from birth to this current moment. Think about the key events in your life, such as birthdays, graduations, weddings and so on. After you have done this, you can pick one key event from your life to write a story about. 
  • Think of a famous book or movie you like. Rewrite a scene from this book or movie, where the main character is an outsider. They watch the key events play out, but have no role in the story. What would their actions be? How would they react?
  • Three very different characters have just won the lottery. Write a script for each character, as they reveal the big news to their best friend.  
  • Write a day in the life story of three different characters. How does each character start their day? What do they do throughout the day? And how does their day end?
  •  Write about the worst experience in your life so far. Think about a time when you were most upset or angry and describe it. 
  • Imagine you’ve found a time machine in your house. What year would you travel to and why?
  • Describe your own superhero. Think about their appearance, special abilities and their superhero name. Will they have a secret identity? Who is their number one enemy?
  • What is your favourite country in the world? Research five fun facts about this country and use one to write a short story. 
  • Set yourself at least three writing goals. This could be a good way to motivate yourself to write every day. For example, one goal might be to write at least 150 words a day. 
  • Create a character description based on the one fact, three fiction rule. Think about one fact or truth about yourself. And then add in three fictional or fantasy elements. For example, your character could be the same age as you in real life, this is your one fact. And the three fictional elements could be they have the ability to fly, talk in over 100 different languages and have green skin. 
  • Describe the perfect person. What traits would they have? Think about their appearance, their interests and their dislikes. 
  • Keep a daily journal or diary. This is a great way to keep writing every day. There are lots of things you can write about in your journal, such as you can write about the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of your day. Think about anything that inspired you or anything that upset you, or just write anything that comes to mind at the moment. 
  • Write a book review or a movie review. If you’re lost for inspiration, just watch a random movie or read any book that you can find. Then write a critical review on it. Think about the best parts of the book/movie and the worst parts. How would you improve the book or movie?
  • Write down a conversation between yourself. You can imagine talking to your younger self or future self (i.e. in 10 years’ time). What would you tell them? Are there any lessons you learned or warnings you need to give? Maybe you could talk about what your life is like now and compare it to their life?
  • Try writing some quick flash fiction stories . Flash fiction is normally around 500 words long, so try to stay within this limit.
  • Write a six-word story about something that happened to you today or yesterday. A six-word story is basically an entire story told in just six words. Take for example: “Another football game ruined by me.” or “A dog’s painting sold for millions.” – Six-word stories are similar to writing newspaper headlines. The goal is to summarise your story in just six words. 
  • The most common monsters or creatures used in stories include vampires, werewolves , dragons, the bigfoot, sirens and the loch-ness monster. In a battle of intelligence, who do you think will win and why?
  • Think about an important event in your life that has happened so far, such as a birthday or the birth of a new sibling. Now using the 5 W’s and 1 H technique describe this event in great detail. The 5 W’s include: What, Who, Where, Why, When and the 1 H is: How. Ask yourself questions about the event, such as what exactly happened on that day? Who was there? Why was this event important? When and where did it happen? And finally, how did it make you feel?
  • Pretend to be someone else. Think about someone important in your life. Now put yourself into their shoes, and write a day in the life story about being them. What do you think they do on a daily basis? What situations would they encounter? How would they feel?
  • Complete this sentence in at least 10 different ways: I remember…
  • Write about your dream holiday. Where would you go? Who would you go with? And what kind of activities would you do?
  • Which one item in your house do you use the most? Is it the television, computer, mobile phone, the sofa or the microwave? Now write a story of how this item was invented. You might want to do some research online and use these ideas to build up your story. 
  • In exactly 100 words, describe your bedroom. Try not to go over or under this word limit.
  • Make a top ten list of your favourite animals. Based on this list create your own animal fact file, where you provide fun facts about each animal in your list.
  • What is your favourite scene from a book or a movie? Write down this scene. Now rewrite the scene in a different genre, such as horror, comedy, drama etc.
  •  Change the main character of a story you recently read into a villain. For example, you could take a popular fairytale such as Jack and the Beanstalk, but this time re-write the story to make Jack the villain of the tale.
  • Complete the following sentence in at least 10 different ways: Do you ever wonder…
  • What does your name mean? Research the meaning of your own name, or a name that interests you. Then use this as inspiration for your next story. For example, the name ‘Marty’ means “Servant Of Mars, God Of War”. This could make a good concept for a sci-fi story.
  • Make a list of three different types of heroes (or main characters) for potential future stories.
  • If someone gave you $10 dollars, what would you spend it on and why?
  • Describe the world’s most boring character in at least 100 words. 
  • What is the biggest problem in the world today, and how can you help fix this issue?
  • Create your own travel brochure for your hometown. Think about why tourists might want to visit your hometown. What is your town’s history? What kind of activities can you do? You could even research some interesting facts. 
  • Make a list of all your favourite moments or memories in your life. Now pick one to write a short story about.
  • Describe the scariest and ugliest monster you can imagine. You could even draw a picture of this monster with your description.
  • Write seven haikus, one for each colour of the rainbow. That’s red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. 
  • Imagine you are at the supermarket. Write down at least three funny scenarios that could happen to you at the supermarket. Use one for your next short story. 
  • Imagine your main character is at home staring at a photograph. Write the saddest scene possible. Your goal is to make your reader cry when reading this scene. 
  • What is happiness? In at least 150 words describe the feeling of happiness. You could use examples from your own life of when you felt happy.
  • Think of a recent nightmare you had and write down everything you can remember. Use this nightmare as inspiration for your next story.
  • Keep a dream journal. Every time you wake up in the middle of the night or early in the morning you can quickly jot down things that you remember from your dreams. These notes can then be used as inspiration for a short story. 
  • Your main character is having a really bad day. Describe this bad day and the series of events they experience. What’s the worst thing that could happen to your character?
  • You find a box on your doorstep. You open this box and see the most amazing thing ever. Describe this amazing thing to your readers.
  • Make a list of at least five possible settings or locations for future stories. Remember to describe each setting in detail.
  • Think of something new you recently learned. Write this down. Now write a short story where your main character also learns the same thing.
  • Describe the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your whole life. Your goal is to amaze your readers with its beauty. 
  • Make a list of things that make you happy or cheer you up. Try to think of at least five ideas. Now imagine living in a world where all these things were banned or against the law. Use this as inspiration for your next story.
  • Would you rather be rich and alone or poor and very popular? Write a story based on the lives of these two characters. 
  • Imagine your main character is a Librarian. Write down at least three dark secrets they might have. Remember, the best secrets are always unexpected.
  • There’s a history behind everything. Describe the history of your house. How and when was your house built? Think about the land it was built on and the people that may have lived here long before you.
  • Imagine that you are the king or queen of a beautiful kingdom. Describe your kingdom in great detail. What kind of rules would you have? Would you be a kind ruler or an evil ruler of the kingdom?
  • Make a wish list of at least three objects you wish you owned right now. Now use these three items in your next story. At least one of them must be the main prop in the story.
  • Using nothing but the sense of taste, describe a nice Sunday afternoon at your house. Remember you can’t use your other senses (i.e see, hear, smell or touch) in this description. 
  • What’s the worst pain you felt in your life? Describe this pain in great detail, so your readers can also feel it.
  • If you were lost on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere, what three must-have things would you pack and why?
  • Particpate in online writing challenges or contests. Here at Imagine Forest, we offer daily writing challenges with a new prompt added every day to inspire you. Check out our challenges section in the menu.

Do you have any more fun creative writing exercises to share? Let us know in the comments below!

creative writing exercises

Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.

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Teaching with Jennifer Findley

Upper Elementary Teaching Blog

December 18, 2016 | 6 Comments | Filed Under: Writing & Grammar

Types of Writing Lessons (Writing Workshop Ideas)

I recently spoke with a teacher who asked me what writing program I use to teach writing. When I told her I didn’t use a program, she was a little shocked and wanted to know how I knew what to teach.

As I explained to her how I generate my lesson topics, I realized this might be something useful to share on my blog. Keep reading for three types of writing lessons, how I generate those lessons, and tips for how you can do the same.

Need ideas for mini-lessons for writing workshop? Read this post for information on three types of writing lessons and tips and free printables to generate your own writing lesson topics.

Management Writing Mini-Lessons:

Management writing lessons are basically the procedures and expectations you want the students to follow during writing time. I teach the bulk of these lessons in the first month of school and then revisit them (or new ones) as needed based on my students’ writing behaviors.

Here are some examples of management writing lessons:

  • Materials and how to use them
  • Using writing forms
  • Using the computer to publish
  • Expectations during independent writing
  • Expectations for self evaluation of writing
  • Peer conference procedures and expectations
  • Procedures for editing and the different ways to edit (partner, self, teacher)
  • Using editing and revising checklists
  • Procedures for requesting a conference
  • Ways to publish drafts
  • Any other areas of concern based on your students’ writing behaviors

Here is an example of my writing expectations for independent writing time. For the lesson, I have this particular anchor chart prepared ahead of time. The students and I go over each expectation, discuss why it is important, and how we can ensure we meet those expectations.

Need ideas for mini-lessons for writing workshop? Read this post for information on three types of writing lessons and tips and free printables to generate your own writing lesson topics.

Where do I get more ideas for management writing mini-lessons?

To get more ideas for management writing lessons, I observe my students during writing time and look for behaviors that need to be stopped or procedures that need to be put in place. Here are some ideas:

  • Do your students constantly ask you how to spell words? Teach a mini-lesson on spelling strategies for unknown words.
  • Do your students get off-task frequently? Teach a mini-lessons showing them how to stay on-task during writing time.
  • Do your students not know what to do when they finish a writing draft? Teach a mini-lesson of the necessary procedures for when students finish a draft.

Craft Mini-Lessons:

The craft mini-lessons are the lessons aligned to my standards. These lessons are how I actually explicitly teach my students genres of writings and the craft of writing in each genre.

Here are some craft mini-lesson ideas that I do in the first month to generate ideas for writing:

  • What do I write about?
  • Using seed notebook for ideas (Click here to read about how we use writing lists to help generate writing topics)
  • Updating seed notebook
  • Pulling from personal experiences for writing
  • How do writers choose topics?
  • Why do writers write?
  • Expanding ideas from seed journal

Here are some craft mini-lessons that I do throughout the year for the genres I teach:

  • Writing for specific audiences
  • Writing from specific points of view
  • Writing for specific purposes
  • Small moments
  • Adding details
  • Sequencing ideas
  • Leads and conclusions
  • “Show, Not Tell”
  • Transitions
  • Developing characters
  • Adding voice
  • Strong descriptions
  • Word choice
  • Adding figurative language
  • Adding sound devices
  • Research skills
  • Adding research into writing
  • Writing in different genres

Where do I get more ideas for craft writing mini-lessons?

One strategy that I use to come up with craft mini-lessons is to analyze released writing samples from my state assessment. As I analyze the writing samples, I take note of what the students did well in the samples that my students are not doing well.

Another strategy is to use your student writing to reflect on what the students need to include in their writing to advance their writing to the next level. For example, one year I had students who were constantly making lists in their writing. After noticing this, I taught the students a mini-lesson on how to avoid making lists and instead expand on the details (or leave them out if they are not relevant to advancing the plot).

Conventions Mini-Lessons:

Convention mini-lessons are just what they seem: lessons you teach your students to improve their writing conventions, such as:

  • Spelling Patterns
  • Paragraphing
  • Grammar Rules
  • Punctuation
  • Capitalization

For a more detailed list of ideas for convention mini-lessons, click here to grab the checklist of ideas shown below.

Need ideas for mini-lessons for writing workshop? Read this post for information on three types of writing lessons and tips and free printables to generate your own writing lesson topics.

Where do I get more ideas for conventions writing mini-lessons?

To get ideas for my convention lessons I use my students’ writing to guide me and my language/writing standards. As you are reading/grading your students’ writing, look for patterns in their errors. If you see something that the majority of your students are doing incorrectly or not even doing at all, jot down a note and add that to your mini-lessons for the next week.

Need ideas for mini-lessons for writing workshop? Read this post for information on three types of writing lessons and tips and free printables to generate your own writing lesson topics.

While I am reading my students’ essays, I use this printable to help me jot down ideas for convention lessons. Click here to grab a copy.

Do you use a writing workshop model to teach writing? Do you have other strategies for generating writing lesson ideas than the ones I use? Let me know in the comments!

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This post focuses on generating writing topics using lists for narrative, persuasive, and informational writing in a writer's notebook

Reader Interactions

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December 31, 2016 at 5:08 am

Thank you so much for all the wonderful ideas. There is always so much to teach and do, it is awesome to have organized way of teaching like yours that will definitely help me and I am sure many orhers too.

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December 31, 2016 at 11:36 am

Hi Nagihan, Thank you for your comment! I am so glad this will help you! It really helped streamline my writing instruction for sure.

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August 27, 2017 at 8:13 pm

I was wondering if you had the lesson plans and printables for all your lessons. I would like to purchase.

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September 2, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Thank you so much! I’m teaching writing for the first time to and I’ve loved all of your posts! They are so detailed and specific, when you spoke on a previous post about the specificities of your 9 week units I got a much better sense of what to do, making planning so much easier! I was hoping I could see more about how you ask students to organize their mini lesson section in their notebooks, mine always seem so messy and hard to find. Do you use a table of contents? Thank you again for everything!

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September 18, 2017 at 9:22 pm

This is my first year ever teaching ELA (5th Grade) and this blog is saving my life!

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October 24, 2017 at 7:40 am

thanks for the information is very helpful to be read and known

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writing workshop assignments

Welcome friends! I’m Jennifer Findley: a teacher, mother, and avid reader. I believe that with the right resources, mindset, and strategies, all students can achieve at high levels and learn to love learning. My goal is to provide resources and strategies to inspire you and help make this belief a reality for your students. Learn more about me.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In-Class Writing Exercises

If you find yourself wishing your students would write more thoughtful papers or think more deeply about the issues in your course, this handout may help you. At the Writing Center, we work one-on-one with thousands of student writers and find that giving them targeted writing tasks or exercises encourages them to problem-solve, generate, and communicate more fully on the page. You’ll find targeted exercises here and ways to adapt them for use in your course or with particular students.

Writing requires making choices. We can help students most by teaching them how to see and make choices when working with ideas. We can introduce students to a process of generating and sorting ideas by teaching them how to use exercises to build ideas. With an understanding of how to discover and arrange ideas, they will have more success in getting their ideas onto the page in clear prose.

Through critical thinking exercises, students move from a vague or felt sense about course material to a place where they can make explicit the choices about how words represent their ideas and how they might best arrange them. While some students may not recognize some of these activities as “writing,” they may see that doing this work will help them do the thinking that leads to easier, stronger papers.

Brainstorming

In order to write a paper for a class, students need ways to move from the received knowledge of the course material to some separate, more synthesized or analyzed understanding of the course material. For some students this begins to happen internally or through what we call “thinking,” unvoiced mulling, sorting, comparing, speculating, applying, etc. that leads them to new perspectives, understanding, questions, reactions about the course material. This thinking is often furthered through class discussion and some students automatically, internally move from these initial sortings of ideas into complex, logical interpretations of material at this point. But, for more students, their thinking will remain an unorganized, vague set of ideas referring to the subject. Many will have trouble moving beyond this vague sense or simple reaction toward ideas that are more processed, complex, or what we often call “deep.” We can foster that move to a deeper understanding by providing opportunities to externalize and fix their ideas on paper so that they may both see their ideas and then begin to see the relationships between them. The following activities will help students both generate and clarify initial responses to course material:

  • Free-writing. Find a clock, watch, or timer to help you keep track of time. Choose a topic, idea, question you would like to consider. It can be a specific detail or a broad concept-whatever you are interested in exploring at the moment. Write (on paper or on a computer) for 7-10 minutes non-stop on that topic. If you get stuck and don’t know what to say next, write “I’m stuck and don’t know what to say next…” or try asking yourself “what else?” until another idea comes to you. Do not concern yourself with spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Your goal is to generate as much as you can about the topic in a short period of time and to get used to the feeling of articulating ideas on the page. It’s ok if it’s messy or makes sense only to you. You can repeat this exercise several times, using the same or a variety of topics connecting to your subject. Read what you have written to see if you have discovered anything about your subject or found a line of questioning you’d like to pursue.
  • Clustering/Webbing. Find a clock, watch, or timer to help you keep track of time. Put a word you’d like to explore in the center of a piece of paper and put a circle around it. As fast as you can, free-associate or jot down anywhere on the page as many words as you can think of associated with your center word. If you get stuck, go back to the center word and launch again. Speed is important and quantity is your goal. Don’t discount any word or phrase that comes to you, just put it down on the page. Jot words for between 5-10 minutes. When you are finished you will have a page filled with seemingly random words. Read around on the page and see if you have discovered anything or can see connections between any ideas.
  • Listing. On a piece of paper list all the ideas you can think of connected to subjects you are considering exploring. Consider any idea or observation as valid and worthy of listing. List quickly and then set your list aside for a few minutes. Come back and read your list and do the exercise again.
  • Cubing. This technique helps you look at your subject from six different points of view (imagine the 6 sides of a cube and you get the idea). Take your topic or idea and 1) describe it, 2) compare it, 3) associate it with something else you know, 4) analyze it (meaning break it into parts), 5) apply it to a situation you are familiar with, 6) argue for or against it. Write at a paragraph, page, or more about each of the six points of view on your subject.
  • Journalistic questions. Write these questions down the left hand margin of a piece of paper: Who? What? Where? When? How? And Why? Think about your topic in terms of each question.
  • What? So What? Now what? To begin to explore an idea first ask yourself, “What do I want to explore?” and write about that topic for a page or more. Then read what you have written and ask “So what?” of the ideas expressed so far. Again, write for a page or more. Finally ask yourself, “Now what?” to begin to think about what else you might consider or where you might go next with an idea.
  • Defining terms. Although this suggestion is simple and may seem obvious, it is often overlooked. Write definitions for key terms or concepts in your own words. Find others’ articulations of the terms in your course readings, the dictionary, or in conversations, and compare these definitions to your own. Seek input from your instructor if you can’t get a working definition of a term for yourself.
  • Summarizing positions. Sometimes it’s helpful to simply describe what you know as a way to solidify your own understanding of something before you try to analyze or synthesize new ideas. You can summarize readings by individual articles or you can combine what you think are like perspectives into a summary of a position. Try to be brief in your description of the readings. Write a paragraph or up to a page describing a reading or a position.
  • Metaphor writing. Metaphors or similes are comparisons sometimes using the words “like” or “as.” For example, “writing is like swimming” or the “sky is as blue as map water” or “the keyboard wrinkled with ideas.” When you create a metaphor, you put one idea in terms of another and thereby create a new vision of the original idea. Sometimes it may be easier to create a metaphor or simile may help you understand your view of an idea before you can put it fully into sentences or paragraphs. Write a metaphor or simile and then explain to someone why your metaphor works or what it means to you.
  • Applying ideas to personal circumstance or known situations. Sometimes ideas come clearest when you can put them in a frame that is meaningful to you. Take a concept from your reading assignments and apply it so a situation in your own life or to a current event with which you are familiar. You may not end up using this application in your final draft, but applying it to something you know will help you to understand it better and prepare you to analyze the idea as your instructor directs.

Once students have something on the page to work with, they can begin the decision-making process crucial to developing a coherent idea or argument. At this point, students will choose which ideas most appeal to them, which ideas seem to fit together, which ideas need to be set aside, and which ideas need further exploration. The following activities will help students make decisions as they shape ideas:

  • Drawing diagrams. Sometimes it helps to look for the shape your ideas seem to be taking as you develop them. Jot down your main ideas on the page and then see if you can connect them in some way. Do they form a square? A circle? An umbrella with spokes coming down? A pyramid? Does one idea seem to sit on a shelf above another idea? Would equal signs, greater or less signs help you express the relationships you see between your idea? Can you make a flow chart depicting the relationships between your ideas?
  • Making charts or piles. Try sorting your ideas into separate piles. You can do this literally by putting ideas on note cards or scraps of paper and physically moving them into different piles. You can do this on the page by cutting and pasting ideas into a variety of groups on the computer screen. You can also make charts that illustrate the relationships between ideas. Common charts include timelines, authors sitting around a dinner table, and comparison/contrast charts.
  • Scrap pile. Be prepared to keep a scrap pile of ideas somewhere as you work. Some people keep this pile as a separate document as they work; others keep notes at the bottom of a page where they store scrap sentences or thoughts for potential use later on. Remember that it is sometimes important to throw out ideas as a way to clarify and improve the ones you are trying to develop along the way.
  • Shifting viewpoints (role-playing). When you begin to feel you have some understanding of your idea, it sometimes helps to look at it from another person’s point of view. You can do this by role-playing someone who disagrees with your conclusions or who has a different set of assumptions about your subject. Make a list or write a dialogue to begin to reveal the other perspective.
  • Applying an idea to a new situation. If you have developed a working thesis, test it out by applying it to another event or situation. If you idea is clear, it will probably work again or you will find other supporting instances of your theory.
  • Problem/Solution writing. Sometimes it helps to look at your ideas through a problem-solving lens. To do so, first briefly outline the problem as you see it or define it. Make sure you are through in listing all the elements that contribute to the creation of the problem. Next, make a list of potential solutions. Remember there is likely to be more than one solution.
  • Theory/application writing. If your assignment asks you to develop a theory or an argument, abstract it from the situation at hand. Does your theory hold through the text? Would it apply to a new situation or can you think of a similar situation that works in the same way? Explain your ideas to a friend.
  • Defining critical questions. You may have lots of evidence or information and still feel uncertain what you should do with it or how you should write about it. Look at your evidence and see if you can find repeated information or a repeated missing piece. See if you can write a question or a series of questions that summarize the most important ideas in your paper. Once you have the critical questions, you can begin to organize your ideas around potential answers to the question.
  • Explaining/teaching idea to someone else. Sometimes the most efficient way to clarify your ideas is to explain them to someone else. The other person need not be knowledgeable about your subject-in fact it sometimes helps if they aren’t familiar with your topic-but should be willing to listen and interrupt you when he or she doesn’t follow you. As you teach your ideas to someone else, you may begin to have more confidence in the shape of your ideas or you may be able to identify the holes in your argument and be more able to fix them.
  • Lining up evidence. If you think you have a good idea of how something works, find evidence in your course material, through research in the library or on the web that supports your thinking. If your ideas are strong, you should find supporting evidence to corroborate your ideas.
  • Rewriting idea. Sometimes what helps most is rewriting an idea over the course of several days. Take the central idea and briefly explain it in a paragraph or two. The next day, without looking at the previous day’s writing, write a new paragraph explaining your ideas. Try it again the next day. Over the course of three days, you may find your ideas clarifying, complicating, or developing holes. In all cases, you will have a better idea of what you need to do next in writing your draft.

As students have been working with their ideas, they have been making a series of choices about their ideas that will lead them to feel “ready” to put them in a more complete, coherent form; they will feel “ready to write” their ideas in something closer to the assignment or paper form. But for most, the tough moments of really “writing” begin at this point. They may still feel that they “have ideas” but have trouble “getting them on the page.” Some will suddenly be thrust into “writing a paper” mode and be both constrained and guided by their assumptions about what an assignment asks them to do, what academic writing is, and what prior experience has taught them about writing for teachers. These exercises may ease their entry into shaping their ideas for an assignment:

  • Clarify all questions about the assignment. Before you begin writing a draft, make sure you have a thorough understanding of what the assignment requires. You can do this by summarizing your understanding of the assignment and emailing your summary to your TA or instructor. If you have questions about points to emphasize, the amount of evidence needed, etc. get clarification early. You might try writing something like, “I’ve summarized what I think I’m supposed to do in this paper, am I on the right track?
  • Write a letter describing what the paper is going to be about. One of the simplest, most efficient exercises you can do to sort through ideas is to write a letter to yourself about what you are planning to write in your paper. You might start out, “My paper is going to be about….” And go on to articulate what evidence you have to back up your ideas, what parts still feel rough to you about your ideas. In about 20 minutes, you can easily have a good sense of what you are ready to write and the problems you still need to solve in your paper.
  • Write a full draft. Sometimes you don’t know what you think until you see what you’ve said. Writing a full draft, even if you think the draft has problems, is sometimes important. You may find your thesis appears in your conclusion paragraph.
  • Turn your ideas into a five-minute speech. Pretend you have to give a 5 minute speech to your classmates. How would you begin the speech? What’s your main point? What key information would you include? How much detail do you need to give the listener? What evidence will be most convincing or compelling for your audience?
  • Make a sketch of the paper. Sometimes it helps to literally line up or order you evidence before you write. You can do so quickly by making a numbered list of your points. Your goal is something like a sketch outline—first I am going to say this; next I need to include this point; third I need to mention this idea. The ideas should flow logically from one point to the next. If they don’t-meaning if you have to backtrack, go on a tangent, or otherwise make the reader wait to see the relationship between ideas, then you need to continue tinkering with the list.
  • Make an outline. If you have successfully used formal outlines in the past, use one to structure your paper. If you haven’t successfully used outlines, don’t worry. Try some of the other techniques listed here to get your ideas on the page
  • Start with the easiest part. If you have trouble getting started on a draft, write what feels to you like the easiest part first. There’s nothing magic about starting at the beginning-unless that’s the easiest part for you. Write what you know for sure and a beginning will probably emerge as you write.
  • Write the body of the paper first. Sometimes it’s helpful NOT to write the beginning or introductory paragraph first. See what you have to say in the bulk of your draft and then go back to craft a suitable beginning.
  • Write about feelings about writing. Sometimes it’s helpful to begin a writing session by spending 5-10 minutes writing to yourself about your feelings about the assignment. Doing so can help you set aside uncertainty and frustration and help you get motivated to write your draft.
  • Write with the screen turned off. If you are really stuck getting starting or in the middle of a draft, turn the monitor off and type your ideas. Doing so will prevent you from editing and critiquing your writing as you first produce it. You may be amazed at the quantity and quality of ideas you can produce in a short time. You’ll have to do some cleanup on the typos, but it may be well worth it if it allows you to bang out a draft.
  • Write in alternatives (postpone decision-making). You may need to test out more than one idea before you settle into a particular direction for a paper. It’s actually more efficient to spend time writing in several directions i.e. trying out one idea for awhile, then trying out another idea, than it is to try to fit all of your ideas into one less coherent draft. Your writing may take the form of brief overviews that begin, “If I were going to write about XYZ idea, I would…” until you are able to see which option suits the assignment and your needs.
  • Write with a timer. Sometimes what you need most is to get all of your ideas out on paper in a single sitting. To do so, pretend you are taking an essay exam. Set a timer for an appropriate amount of time (1 hour? 3 hours?) depending on the length of your draft. Assume that it will take you approximately 1 hour per page of text you produce. Set a goal for the portion of your draft you must complete during the allotted time and don’t get up from your seat until the timer goes off.

As students use language to shape ideas, they begin to feel the need to test their ideas or move beyond their own perspectives. Sometimes we have ideas that make good sense to us, but seem to lose or confuse readers as we voice them in conversation or on the page. Once students have a complete draft of a paper, they need ways to share their ideas to learn points where their ideas need further development. With feedback from an audience, students are better able to see the final decisions they still need to make in order for their ideas to reach someone. These decisions may be ones of word choice, organization, logic, evidence, and tone. Keep in mind that this juncture can be unsettling for some students. Having made lots of major decisions in getting their ideas down on the page, they may be reluctant to tackle another round of decision-making required for revising or clarifying ideas or sentences. Remind students that ideas don’t exist apart from words, but in the words themselves. They will need to be able to sell their ideas through the words and arrangement of words on the page for a specific audience.

  • Talk your paper. Tell a friend what your paper is about. Pay attention to your explanation. Are all of the ideas you describe actually in the paper? Where did you start explaining your ideas? Does your paper match your description? Can the listener easily find all of the ideas you mention in your description?
  • Ask someone to read your paper out loud to you. Ask a friend to read your draft out loud to you. What do you hear? Where does your reader stumble? Sound confused? Have questions? Did your reader ever get lost in your text? Did ideas flow in the order the reader expected them to? Was anything missing for the reader? Did the reader need more information at any point?
  • Share your draft with your instructor. If you give them enough notice, most instructors will be willing to read a draft of a paper. It sometimes helps to include your own assessment of the draft when you share it with a teacher. Give them your assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the draft, as you see it, to begin a conversation.
  • Share your draft with a classmate. Arrange to exchange papers with a classmate several days before the due date. You can do so via email and make comments for revision using Word’s comment function.
  • Look at your sentences. Often you will need to analyze your draft of the sentence level. To do so, break your paper into a series of discrete sentences by putting a return after each period or end punctuation. Once you have your paper as a list of sentences, you can more easily see and solve sentence level problems. Try reading the sentences starting with the last sentence of the draft and moving up. Doing so will take them out of context and force you to see them as individual bits of communication rather than familiar points.
  • Discuss key terms in your paper with someone else. After you have completed a draft, it’s sometimes helpful to look back at the key terms you are using to convey your ideas. It’s easy, in the midst of thinking about an idea, to write in loaded language or code in which certain key words come to have special meaning for you that isn’t necessarily shared by a reader. If you suspect this is the case, talk about your key terms with a friend, and ask them to read your draft to see if the idea is adequately explained for the reader.
  • Outline your draft. After you have a complete draft, go back and outline what you have said. Next to each paragraph write a word or phrase that summarizes the content of that paragraph. You might also look to see if you have topic sentences that convey the ideas of individual paragraphs. If you can’t summarize the content of a paragraph, you probably have multiple ideas in play in that paragraph that may need revising. Once you have summarized each paragraph, turn your summary words into a list. How does the list flow? Is it clear how one idea connects to the next?
  • Underline your main point. Highlight the main point of your paper. It should probably be (although it will depend on the assignment) in one sentence somewhere on the first page. If it’s not, the reader will likely be lost and wondering what you paper is about as he or she reads through it. Your draft should not read like a mystery novel in which the reader has to wait until the end to have all the pieces fit together.
  • Ask someone without knowledge of the course to read your paper. You can tell if your draft works by sharing it with someone outside of the context. If they can follow your ideas, someone inside the class will be able to as well.
  • Ask a reader to judge specific elements of your paper. Share your draft with someone and ask them to read for something specific i.e. organization, punctuation, transitions. A reader will give more specific feedback to you if you give them some specific direction.

Implementing exercises

Many of these exercises can be used in short in-class writing assignments, as part of group work, or as incremental steps in producing a paper. If you’ve assigned an end-of-semester term paper, you may want to assign one or two activities from each of the four stages-brainstorming, organizing, drafting, editing-at strategic points throughout the semester. You could also give the students the list of exercises for each stage and ask them to choose one or two activities to complete at each point as they produce a draft.

If you’d like to discuss how these exercises might work in your course, talk about other aspects of student writing, contact Kimberly Abels [email protected] at the Writing Center.

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✍️ 100+ Creative Writing Exercises for Fiction Authors

This curated directory of creative writing exercises was conceived thanks to a collaboration between the top writing blogs of 2024. Use the filters to find and practice specific techniques — and show that blank page who’s boss!

We found 119 exercises that match your search 🔦

The Hammer and the Hatchet

A stranger walks into the general store and buys a hammer, a hatchet, some rope, and an apple. What does he do with them?

Writer's Block

Picket fence.

Describe your house - or the dream house you hope to get some day.

Telephone Directory

It is commonly known that a telephone directory might be the most boring text in the entire world. Here is your challenge: write a page of a telephone directory and figure out SOME way to make it interesting.

writing workshop assignments

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Pick a fiction book from your shelf. Go to page eight and find the eighth sentence on the page. Start with that sentence and write an eight-line poem that connects in some way to your work-in-progress. For instance, write from the POV of a character, or set the poem in a story setting. Don't worry about poetry forms. Just write eight lines of any length that flow and explore some aspect of character, setting, or theme.

  • Why are you grumpy? I have a hangover.
  • Why do you have a hangover? My friend was in a bad accident and I thought he might die?
  • Why did you think he might die? His girlfriend lied to me about how serious the accident was.
  • Why did she lie about that? She's jealous of our relationship.
  • Why? I think she's insecure and has trust issues.

Character Development

The ellen degeneres show.

A talk show is scripted to promote the guest and discuss topics with which the guest is comfortable. Imagine your protagonist on the Ellen Degeneres Show (or The Late Show With Stephen Colbert - whichever show you're familiar with). What questions would be asked of your protagonist? What funny anecdotes would your protagonist share? Write down the reactions of both your protagonist and the host.

  • You could say it began with a phone call."
  • Michael had watched them both for weeks."
  • She remembered the way it was the first time she saw the prison."
  • Midsummer, no time to be in New Orleans."
  • With the dawn came the light."

Thank you to all our contributors: Almost An Author, Alyssa Hollingsworth, Anne R. Allen, Bang2Write, Christopher Fielden, Darcy Pattinson, Elizabeth S. Craig, Flogging The Quill, Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips, Helping Writers Become Authors, Katie McCoach, Lauren Carter, Insecure Writer’s Support Group, Mandy Wallace, NaNoWriMo, Nail Your Novel, Novel Publicity, One Stop For Writers, Pro Writing Aid, PsychWriter, re:Fiction, The Journal, The Writer’s Workshop, Well-Storied, Women On Writing, writing.ie, Writing-World.com!

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Resources for Teaching Fellows

Harvard Writing Project consultants can help teaching fellows learn how to encourage their students to write better, more persuasive papers. HWP consultants are available to consult with teaching fellows on any aspect of their teaching relevant to writing instruction—grading, commenting, assignment design, classroom activities, etc.

In addition to consulting with teaching fellows, the HWP offers the following services:

  • HWP consultants can conduct TF training workshops  on grading, commenting, teaching writing process, or designing writing assignments. Workshops can be designed for particular courses, departments, or teaching practicums.
  • The HWP Brief Guide series  offers concise advice on various aspects of teaching writing.
  • With the support of the course head, HWP consultants can help design exercises, classroom activities, or writing guides  for courses.
  • The HarvardWrites Instructor Toolkit  website offers concise advice about best practices for teaching writing and an array of customizable lesson plans and exercises that are available for download.
  • The student resources  section of this site lists writing instruction resources aimed at a student audience. 
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5 Writing Workshop Mini Lessons That Shouldn’t Be Skipped

January 12, 2022 | Leave a Comment

5 writing workshop mini lessons you shouldn't skip title page

No matter what time of the year writing workshop starts, these are 5 writing workshop mini lessons that shouldn’t be skipped! I find that doing these lessons will start my workshop on the right foot and help students know all about my expectations.

Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #1: The Components of Writer’s Workshop

Before introducing the writer’s workshop model, plan out the pieces you’ll be using in your workshop. I modified my workshop slightly from the traditional model so that it skips the daily check in. 

Each day I cover a mini whole class lesson, independent writing time, and share time. My first mini lesson when I am starting writer’s workshop is to teach my class about each component. Sometimes it may be necessary to break it apart in several lessons (especially if you want to really focus on the dos and don’ts of each section).

I like to take my time and explicitly teach the roles of a student and the teacher (like in the Daily 5 process ). Going over exactly what I want it to look like helps minimize off task behaviors at the start.  Likewise, it’s important not to skip the step of what it shouldn’t look like. Not only do students find it pretty funny when they see off task behaviors modeled, but it really sticks in their memories.

Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #2: Writer’s Workshop Materials

The next important writing workshop mini lesson is teaching about the writer’s workshop materials and their appropriate uses. In my class we call these writing tools. This may feel like a silly lesson to teach but it’s important to teach expectations for using their supplies.

Things to consider when planning this lesson:

  • Will students be allowed to color pictures heavily during each writing block?
  • Will students be using pencils or pens for their writing?
  • Will students use notebooks or folders to store their pieces?
  • Where will they keep their daily materials?
  • Where will they keep their revising and editing pens?
  • Will they need highlighters?
  • Will they be using loose leaf paper or a notebook? Spiral or composition?

My Writing Tools Set Up

Each answer to these questions will help you plan what to say during your lesson. For example, in my class students are only allowed to color pictures during the publishing phase. I chose this rule because we only have 45 minutes and it’s more important for them to be writing than working on coloring. This year I have chosen to use pencils for daily writing but most years I use pen. Writing in pen keeps students from agonizing over writing and erasing the same words.

Notebooks or Folders?

Students are provided a blue three-prong plastic folders with several page protectors. Inside the page protectors they are given an alphabet chart, blends and digraphs, and common rimes chart. I left one blank page protector that gets filled with their writing goals tracker once goals are created. They are also given a very slender bound notebook that we use for planning out our writing. This notebook is thin enough to be kept inside their folder along with any loose leaf writing papers.

Writing Tools Storage

Just like with the first mini lesson we are discussing dos and don’ts of handling the workshop materials and where they should be stored. This year with social distancing guidelines each student keeps their own folder in their desk. In prior years students turned in their folders at the end of each writing block and one student passed out their group’s folders.

I have a series of three metal bins (meant to be flower pots) that keep my black, blue, and red writing pens. Even though I have black pens I don’t often have students use them to write this year. Having them write in pen saves me from sharpening a ton of pencils each day. Since editing (red pens) and revising (blue pens) only happen every few weeks, I prefer to keep the pens out of their desks and on my writing center table. Unfortunately this year the table is not used except to hold my writing center cards and letter templates as well as my pen selection.

Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #3: Building Writing Stamina

My students now know what writer’s workshop should look like and how to use the tools appropriately. This means it is time for them to practice building up their writing stamina. Although this isn’t going to be a one and done type of writing mini lesson, it is an important one.

Just as readers need to build up their reading stamina, I feel the same is true for writers. My class seems to do really well with writing the whole time during independent practice, but if you are lucky enough to have a nice long writing block you will want to make sure you build up their practice time. 

Many years ago I used to have a good hour for my writer’s workshop. During those days I would have a second mini-lesson in the middle of our writing time. This way I could address immediate things I was seeing about sentence structure or punctuation. It was also another way to address what was going well with students applying the day’s lesson. Don’t be afraid to break up your writing block like this if you notice students getting squirrely halfway through.

When students work with a writing partner, they can also increase their stamina. It naturally takes longer to work on a writing piece when both partners need to share and work together. This brings me to the next mini lesson.

Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #4: Working with a Partner

I like to establish my writer’s workshop routines before I have students begin working with a partner. Once routines have been established then I’ll add writing partners into the mix. If I do it too early I might have some classroom management issues .

When planning your writing mini lesson, establish what you want partners to do. Will students have partners during independent writing time? Will students only be using partners when revising and editing?

Plan to provide several mini lessons on how to work with a partner. Now that students have had a lot of schooling impacted by Covid, it’s important to teach them the basics of how to work appropriately with each other. This might include things like sentence stems for questions to ask and how to respond, what help looks like (i.e. not doing everything for their partner but guiding them), and how to be a good listener.

Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #5: Compliments and Questions for Share Time

Share time is the last component of writer’s workshop and it’s the one I feel is the most important. Students get to see and hear examples of their peers’ writing. Many teachers use an author’s chair specifically for the purpose of this daily share time. I do not have space in my classroom so I just have students stand at the front of the room.

These one or two mini lessons should cover very similar topics as having a writing partner. In fact, many of the expectations for partners crossover to share time which makes it a perfect place to review and reinforce what students should do.

My share time is usually about 5 minutes tops since I only have a total of 45 minutes. If you have a little longer, pick mini lessons to teach about how to choose which partner goes first and how to offer specific feedback. I like to think of writing partners like mini coaches. They should be giving their partner suggestions for improvement but also a positive comment.

What are your go-to mini lessons when establishing your writer’s workshop?

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Writing workshop: how to set up a schedule that works.

writing workshop assignments

Setting up a schedule for your writing workshop does not need to feel overwhelming. Set up a writing workshop schedule that easily fits into your day will set consistent writing routines that develop your students into writers.

What is Writing Workshop?

Writing workshop is a time in your classroom devoted to writing. It is a time that allows your students to become active writers, creating and celebrating their own pieces of writing.  Your students will acquire writing skills, build writing fluency, improve writing stamina, and develop pride for their finished work.

Students learn to write best when they write often and for an extended period of time.  One of the most important parts of writing workshop is time!  When given time to write, students will grow and learn as writers. 

Writing workshop is student centered.  A workshop model helps students develop skills as writers with guidance from you, as the teacher.

writing workshop assignments

Writing workshop supports writers by allowing them to choose a topic of their own choice.  Teaching a writing genre, using mentor text, and focusing on specific skills will guide a student’s piece of work; but students will write about the topic of their choice.  Student writing is based on their experiences, imagination, and knowledge. 

While writing prompts are an easy way to have students practice writing, writing workshop is not the time to give a writing prompt where all students write about the same topic.  Writing prompts are great for early finishers or centers, but not what writing workshop is intended for.

The importance of writing routines

Routines during writing workshop are so very important.  When beginning your writing workshop , modeling expectations is key to ensure that your workshop will run smoothly. 

Think about the beginning of the year routines and procedures…it takes a while to model and teach those procedures, but soon they become a habit, and slowly things just start to happen on their own.  The same goes for writing workshop! 

Model, model, model your expectations as you launch writing workshop, slowly giving students independence, and then right before your eyes your writing workshop has turned into a well-oiled machine that can run itself! 

When students fall into the consistent routine of writing each day, their writing will naturally grow.

writing workshop assignments

The Structure of Writing Workshop

Mini Lesson (5-10 minutes)

The mini-lesson introduces the focus skill for the day.  This time is used to read mentor text (if applicable) and create an anchor chart.  Anchor charts are a great way to keep the skill visible as students move to work independently.  You may have a mini-anchor chart for students to keep in their writer’s notebooks or just have students copy the anchor chart.   

Independent Writing (20-30 minutes)

During independent writing time, students will work on the assigned writing and focus on the skill that was introduced in the mini-lesson.  Students implement this skill into their writing.  Conferencing with the teacher and peers will happen during this time.

Sharing (5-10 minutes)

Students will take time to share with the class, a partner, or a small group.  Students can share something that they worked on, something they learned, or a specific part of their writing.  This should be a quick recap to focus on how students applied the skill that was taught in the mini-lesson. 

At the end of a project, the sharing may be the entire workshop time with a “celebration” or as I like to call it, a “publishing party.” (Add party on to anything, and it sounds super fun, right?)

Total writing workshop time=30-50 minutes

writing workshop assignments

Setting up your own schedule

So, how can you fit it all in?

The most important thing that you can do is to stay consistent. Decide how long your writing block will be, how many days a week you will devote to that block, and then stick to the workshop routines so that students are able to develop consistent writing habits.

Students thrive when they know what to expect and following a workshop model allows them to anticipate what is expected of them.

Writing workshop planning page

The thought of planning and implementing writing workshop can feel overwhelming sometimes, but with consistent routines, you will find planning and implementation will soon become second nature! And with consistent time to write, you will see your young writers develop a lifelong love for writing!

You can grab free planning pages and join a fun planning challenge below!

writing workshop assignments

You can check out a complete Launching Writing Workshop unit here:

launching writing workshop

Happy Writing!

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Hello! Do you do Writing Workshop and Reading Workshop on the same days? Do you alternate? How do you usually plan the two workshops? Thanks!

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It really is dependent on your own schedule and how much time you have or if you have a set block of time for ELA. Writing is easier to be flexible with time, so some days might allow for a longer workshop, and some might only be 30 min or so. I hope this helps!

writing workshop assignments

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50 Fantastic Creative Writing Exercises

writing workshop assignments

Good question.

Creative writing exercises are designed to teach a technique. They are highly specific, more specific than creative writing prompts, and much more specific than story generators.

Creative writing exercises for adults are not designed to lead the writer into crafting a full story, but are only designed to help them improve as a writer in a narrow, specific category of writing skills.

I’ve broken the exercises below into categories so you can choose what category of skill you’d like to practice. Can you guess which category in this list has the most prompts?

If you guessed characters, then you’re right. I think characters are the heart blood of every story, and that a majority of any writing prompts or writing exercises should focus on them.

But I also think any of these will help you create a narrative, and a plot, and help you generate all kinds of dialogue, whether for short stories or for novels. These writing exercises are pretty much guaranteed to improve your writing and eliminate writer’s block. 

Also, if you’re a fledgling writer who needs help writing their novel, check out my comprehensive guide to novel writing.

Enjoy the five categories of writing exercises below, and happy writing!

five senses

1. Think of the most deafening sound you can imagine. Describe it in great detail, and have your character hear it for the first time at the start of a story.

2. Have a man cooking for a woman on a third date, and have her describe the aromas in such loving and extended detail that she realizes that she’s in love with him.

3. Pick a line from one of your favorite songs, and identify the main emotion. Now write a character who is feeling that emotion and hears the song. Try to describe the type of music in such a beautiful way that you will make the reader yearn to hear the song as well.

4. Have a character dine at a blind restaurant, a restaurant in pitch blackness where all the servers are blind, and describe for a full paragraph how the tablecloth, their clothing, and the hand of their dining partner feels different in the darkness.

5. Select a dish representative of a national cuisine, and have a character describe it in such detail that the reader salivates and the personality of the character is revealed.

Dialogue exercises

7. Describe two characters having a wordless conversation, communicating only through gestures. Try to see how long you can keep the conversation going without any words spoken, but end it with one of them saying a single word, and the other one repeating the same word.

8. In a public place from the last vacation you took, have two characters arguing, but make it clear by the end of the argument that they’re not arguing about what they’re really upset about.

9. Write a scene composed mostly of dialogue with a child talking to a stranger. Your mission is to show the child as heartbreakingly cute. At the same time, avoid sentimentality. 

10. Have two character have a conversation with only a single word, creating emphasis and context so that the word communicates different things each time it is spoken. The prime example of this is in the television show “The Wire,” where Jimmy and Bunk investigate a crime scene repeating only a single expletive.

writing workshop assignments

11. Pick an object that is ugly, and create a character who finds it very beautiful. Have the character describe the object in a way that convinces the reader of its beauty. Now write a second version where you convince the reader (through describing the object alone) that the character is mentally unstable.

12. Write down five emotions on slips of paper and slip them into a hat. Now go outside and find a tree. Draw one emotion from the hat, and try to describe that tree from the perspective of a character feeling that emotion. (Don’t mention the emotion in your writing — try to describe the tree so the reader could guess the emotion).

13. Describe a character’s bedroom in such a way that it tells us about a person’s greatest fears and hopes.

14. Root through your desk drawer until you find a strange object, an object that would probably not be in other people’s drawers. Have a character who is devastated to find this object, and tell the story of why this object devastates them.

15. Go to an art-based Pinterest page and find your favorite piece of art. Now imagine a living room inspired by that flavor of artwork, and show the room after a husband and wife have had the worst fight of their marriage.

16. Pick a simple object like a vase, a broom, or a light bulb, and write a scene that makes the reader cry when they see the object.

writing workshop assignments

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writing workshop assignments

17. Make a list of the top five fears in your life. Write a character who is forced to confront one of those fears.

18. Write an entire page describing the exact emotions when you learned of a happy or calamitous event in your life. Now try to condense that page into a single searing sentence.

19. Think about a time in your life when you felt shame. Now write a character in a similar situation, trying to make it even more shameful.

20. Write a paragraph with a character struggle with two conflicting emotions simultaneously. For example, a character who learns of his father’s death and feels both satisfaction and pain.

21. Write a paragraph where a character starts in one emotional register, and through a process of thought, completely evolves into a different emotion.

Characters:

writing workshop assignments

22. Create a minor character based upon someone you dislike. Now have your main character encounter them and feel sympathy and empathy for them despite their faults.

23. Have a kooky character tell a story inside a pre-established form: an instruction manual, traffic update, email exchange, weather report, text message.

24. Write about a character who does something they swore they would never do.

25. Have a character who has memorized something (the names of positions in the Kama Sutra, the entire book of Revelations) recite it while doing something completely at odds with what they’re reciting. For instance, bench pressing while reciting the emperors in a Chinese dynasty.

26. Write a paragraph where a character does a simple action, like turning on a light switch, and make the reader marvel at how strange and odd it truly is.

27. Have a couple fight while playing a board game. Have the fight be about something related to the board game: fighting about money, have them play monopoly. Fighting about politics, let them play chess.

28. Write about two characters angry at each other, but have both of them pretend the problems don’t exist. Instead, have them fight passive-aggressively, through small, snide comments.

29. Describe a character walking across an expanse field or lot and describe how he walks. The reader should perfectly understand his personality simply by the way you describe his walk.

30. Write a first-person POV of a character under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and try to make the prose as woozy and tipsy as the character.

31. Describe the first time that a character realizes he is not as smart as he thought.

32. Describe an hour in the life of a character who has recently lost their ability to do what they love most (a pianist who has severe arthritis; a runner who became a quadriplegic).

33. Write an argument where a husband or wife complains of a physical ailment, but their spouse refuses to believe it’s real.

34. Write a scene where a stranger stops your main character, saying that they know them, and insisting your main character is someone they are not. Describe exactly how this case of mistaken identity makes your character feel.

35. Describe a small personality trait about a person you love, and make the reader love them, too.

36. Write a personality-revealing scene with a character inside a public restroom. Do they press a thumb against the mirror to leave a subtle mark? Do they write a plea for help on the inside of the stall door? Do they brag about the size of what they’ve just dumped off?

37. Give your character an extremely unusual response to a national tragedy like a terrorist attack or natural disaster. Maybe have them be aware their response is unusual, and try to cloak it from others, or have them be completely unaware and display it without any self-consciousness.

38. Have one of your main characters come up with an idea for a comic book, and tell a close friend about the idea. What about this idea would surprise the friend, upsetting what he thought he knew about your main character? Also, what would the main character learn about himself from the comic book idea?

39. Think of an illness someone you love has suffered from. How does your character respond when someone close to them has this illness?

40. Have your main character invent an extremely offensive idea for a book, and show their personality faults through discussing it with others.

41. Have your character write down a list considering how to respond to their stalker.

42. Write a scene where a man hits on a woman, and although the woman acts repulsed and begs her friends to get him away from her, it becomes apparent that she likes the attention.

43. Write about a 20-something confronting his parents over their disapproval of his lifestyle.

44. Have your character write a funny to-do list about the steps to get a boyfriend or girlfriend.

45. Have a risk-adverse character stuck in a hostage situation with a risk-happy character.

46. For the next week, watch strangers carefully and take notes in your phone about any peculiar gestures or body language. Combine the three most interesting ones to describe a character as she goes grocery shopping.

47. Buy a package of the pills that expand into foam animals, and put a random one in a glass of warm water. Whatever it turns out to be, have that animal surprise your main character in a scene.

48. Have your character faced with a decision witness a rare, awe-inspiring event, and describe how it helps them make their decision.

49. Imagine if your character met for the first time his or her long-lost identical twin. What personality traits would they share and which ones would have changed because of their unique experiences? 

50. If a character got burned by a hot pan, what type of strange reaction would they have that would reveal what they value most?

Once you’ve taken a stab at some of these exercises, I’d recommend you use them in your actual writing.

And for instruction on that, you need a guide to writing your novel . 

That link will change your life and your novel. Click it now.

Creative Writing Exercises

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32 comments

John Fox, you have some excellent resources, and I thank you. I read your comments, then scrolled down to glance at the list of 50 exercises. The FIRST one, “loud noise’ is already in my head. My Hero is going to be side swiped in my Cozy. I was side swiped on a state highway here in Virginia a couple of weeks ago and, although the damage was minor, the sound of that big SUV “glancing” off my little car was SCARY!!! I once heard a fast-moving car REAR-END is stand-still car; that sound was something I’ll never forget. So, your exercise is very timely. THANK YOU!!!

This is a great list! Thanks!

You know what would be motivating? If we could turn these in to someone and get like a grade lol

I’ve been thinking a lot about “how to master writing,” and this is the first time that I found an article that makes it clear the difference between prompts and exercises. I fully agree with you. These are bound to make you a better writer if you focus on doing a variation of them daily.

An excellent list – thank you very much. I run a small writing group and we’ll be trying some.

Yes, thank you. I too run a small writing group and you got me out of a slump for tomorrow’s group!

yes,thank you . It’s good for improve your writing skills.

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What a lovely list! I am working on the final draft of my very first novel, and am constantly working at improving the final product. Your exercises are just what I need to kickstart my writing day. Thank you so very much.

Thank you very much When I turned50 I received my diploma from Children’s Institute in West Redding Ct I got my inspiration from being near water however now that I am in Oregon I have had a writing block thanks to your list my creative juices are flowing

I suppose I better have good punctuation, seeing this is about Writing. Thank you for this great list. I am the Chair of our small Writing group in Otorohanga and we start again last week of Feb. I have sent out a homework email, to write a A4 page of something exciting that has happened over the holiday break and they must read it out to the group with passion and excitement in their voices. That will get them out of their comfort zone!

A formidable yet inspiring list. Thank you very much for this. This is really very helpful. I am from India, and very new to writing and have started my first project, which I want to make it into a Novel. This has been very helpful and is very challenging too. Prompts look sissy when compared to this, frankly speaking. Thank you very much again.

Where can I get the answers for these?

There aren’t “answers.” You create responses to these exercises.

Thank you so much for the detailed suggestions focusing on HOW to put the WHAT into practice; really helpful & inspiring.

Just started rough drafting a story I’ve always wanted to write. Do you have any advice for someone writing their first real story? I’m having trouble starting it; I just want it to be perfect.

I consider this very helpful. Just started my journey as a creative writer, and will be coming back to this page to aid my daily writing goal.

I have always loved writing exercises and these are perfect practice for my competition. I have tried lots of different things that other websites have told me to try, but this by far is the most descriptive and helpful site that i have seen so far.

This is really a creative blog. An expert writer is an amateur who didn’t stop. I trust myself that a decent writer doesn’t actually should be advised anything but to keep at it. Keep it up!

I’ve always enjoyed writing from a little girl. Since I’ve been taking it a bit more seriously as does everybody else it seems; I’ve lost the fun and sponteneity. Until now…..this is a marvelous blog to get back the basic joy and freedom in writing. Or should that be of?:) These exercises are perfect to get the creative juices flowing again…..thank you:)

These are interesting exercises for writing.

These are fantastic! I started reading a really awesome book on creative writing but it just didn’t get any good or easy to follow exercises. So I found your site and having been having a lot of fun with these. Exactly what I was looking for, thank you!

creative and inspiring, thank you

I always wanted to have an exercise where a friend and I each wrote a random sentence and sent it to each other to write a short story from that beginning sentence, then exchange the stories for reading and/or critique. Maybe both writers start with the same sentence and see how different the stories turn out.

Thanks for these exercises. Some are really challenging. To truly tackle them I’m having to spend as long beforehand thinking “how the HECK am I going to do this?” as I do with ink on paper. Would be a great resource if other authors submitted their replies and thoughts about how they went about each exercise.

Start the conversation: submit one of yours.

I think I can use these to inspire my students.

Hi there. Thank you for posting this list- it’s great! Can I ask you to consider removing number 42 or perhaps changing it somewhat? I teach sex ed and every year am shocked by how many young people don’t understand issues around consent. Stories about woman who ‘say no but really mean yes’ are deeply unhelpful. Really appreciate your post but felt I had to ask. Thanks.

What’s wrong with the number 42?

It promulgates the belief that when a woman says no, she doesn’t mean it, potentially resulting in sexual assault.

I just make this list a part of my teaching in Creative Writing Classes. Very good list of ideas!

Thank you so much for posting this! I have used it to create a creative playwriting activity for my high school creative writing class–so much good stuff here for me to pick through and select for my kiddos that will allow them to shine and improve their knowledge of writing as a craft!

writing workshop assignments

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Writing Studio

In-class workshops.

The in-class workshop information page has moved! Please visit our combined  In-Class Workshops and Brief Introductions page  to submit a request for either service.

Writing Studio workshops are designed by our consultants for use in the classroom. These workshops focus on different elements of academic writing and have the following goals in mind:

  • to encourage students to reflect upon their writing habits
  • to introduce students to writing exercises and strategies that they can use in courses across the curriculum, and
  • to enhance discussion of discipline-specific writing practices among students and faculty.

Each workshop runs approximately 45 minutes and includes a discussion of writing strategies, a consultant-facilitated conversation with the instructor and students about writing conventions relevant to the course, and at least one writing activity. We are happy to present up to two workshops per class, per semester.

Instructors are important participants in the workshop conversations, and should plan to contribute relevant materials and be present on the day of the workshop. Several of the workshops are designed to work in conjunction with a class assignment.

Please fill out our  In-Class Workshop Request Form  to request a workshop.

Available in-class workshops, transitioning to college writing workshop.

This workshop is designed mainly for 100-level courses.  It is most appropriate toward the beginning of the semester shortly after students have received the prompt for their first formal writing assignment.  The workshop encourages students to be aware of the conventions of academic writing and attentive to its differences across disciplines. With the assistance of the instructor, we discuss academic writing as a form of conversation with the ideas of others, the role of disciplinary differences in college writing assignments, and the demands of the course for which the students are writing. The workshop ends with an exercise that helps students interpret their writing assignment and begin making a plan to complete it. The course instructor will need to provide a paper prompt.

To learn more about this workshop and the materials required for it, consult the Transitioning to College Writing workshop script .

Brainstorming  workshop

This workshop assists students to find traction and focus during the brainstorming phase of the writing process. Using a prompt provided by the instructor, we work through several exercises designed to help students generate new ideas and then sharpen and develop the most promising. The course instructor will need to provide a paper prompt.

To learn more about this workshop and the materials required for it, consult the Brainstorming workshop script .

Revision  workshop

This workshop assists students with the revision of a paper they have already drafted, focusing on large-scale concerns like argument, analysis, and structure. We work through three revision activities, beginning with a brief exercise in which students rearticulate the main claims of their papers, followed by an exercise designed to identify organizational problems.  For the third activity, the instructor may choose one of four exercises, allowing the instructor to tailor the workshop depending on the nature of the assignment or goals of the course. The course instructor will need to be sure students bring an essay draft to class.

To learn more about this workshop and the materials required for it, consult the workshop Revision workshop script .

Thesis Statements  workshop

This workshop focuses on understanding the characteristics of a strong thesis and how to write one, as well as the conventions of academic argument more broadly.  Using a prompt from the class or a sample prompt, students will begin drafting their own thesis statements.  A discussion about how to argue for one’s thesis rounds out the workshop. The course instructor will need to provide a paper prompt and sample bad thesis statements for that assignment.

To learn more about this workshop and the materials required for it, consult the  Thesis Statements workshop script .

Using Textual Evidence  workshop

This workshop discusses the ways analysis of quotations can be used as support for argumentative claims.  Students will evaluate, discuss, and revise their own use of textual evidence in a draft.  The instructor plays an important role here in helping the students understand what constitutes good evidence, and use thereof, in his or her discipline and course. The course instructor will need to be sure students bring an essay draft to class.

To learn more about this workshop and the materials required for it, consult the  Usuing Textual Evidence workshop script .

Organizing Research Papers workshop

This workshop is designed to be implemented after students have already gathered most of the materials they will require to write their research papers.  The workshop helps students impose order on their materials and formulate a plan for integrating the research into their papers.  Using an organizational grid, students will focus on meaningfully categorizing and evaluating their research in light of a focused research question. The course instructor will need to be sure students bring their research materials to class.

To learn more about this workshop and the materials required for it, consult the  Organizing Research Papers workshop script .

Writing Case Studies and Ethnographies workshop

This workshop focuses on two parts of writing case studies and ethnographies. First, students discuss the importance of neutral and detailed description when conducting field work, taking time to practice writing or revising their own field notes. Second, following a discussion of how ethnographies and case studies drawn upon field notes as evidence, students will begin drafting sentences that use their observations to warrant claims and tie their notes to course concepts. Course instructors may request this workshop either before or after students have conducted fieldwork.

To learn more about this workshop and the materials required for it, consult the  Writing Case Studies and Ethnographies workshop script .

Co-Teach Workshop Option

We know that our list of in-class workshop scripts does not fit every need. If you’ve looked through our existing workshops and do not see what you’re looking for, we would love to work with you to create a workshop to meet your needs, facilitating it alongside you.

If you’re interested in working with us to develop a workshop, please select our new  “ Co – Teach Workshop ” option on the request form. After we receive your request, we will co nnect you with a full-time staff member who will co ntact you to set up an in-person meeting. For all such co – teach requests, we recommend requests be placed a month in advance, at minimum, allowing time for at least one required planning session between the co urse instructor and Writing Studio representative.

Some examples of customized workshops include a peer review session tailored to a specific assignment, a session focused on citation co nventions in a particular field, a workshop focused on co nstructing a co mpelling scientific narrative, and a multimodal co mposition workshop on podcasting.

Important Considerations for All Workshop Requests

Our workshops are meant to be highly collaborative, and involve significant individual student and small group participation. Because of this, we ask that there be no more than 35 students per workshop consultant.

If you would like to schedule for a class larger than 35, please contact our workshop coordinator directly at [email protected] . Specific arrangements for all workshops will be made by email correspondence. In order to access certain content on this page, you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader or an equivalent PDF viewer software.

Writers.com

The best writing exercises bring out our latent creativity. Especially if you ever feel stuck or blocked, making creative writing exercises part of your daily writing practice can be a great way to both hone your skills and explore new frontiers in your writing. Whether you’re a poet, essayist, storyteller, or genre-bending author, these free writing exercises will jumpstart your creative juices and improve your writing abilities.

24 of the Best Free Writing Exercises to Try Out Today

The best creative writing exercises will push you out of your comfort zone and get you to experiment with words. Language is your sandbox, so let’s build some sand castles with these exercises and writing prompts.

Write With Limitations

The English language is huge, complicated, and — quite frankly — chaotic. Writing with self-imposed limitations can help you create novel and inventive pieces.

What does “limitations” mean in this context? Basically, force yourself not to use certain words, descriptions, or figures of speech. Some writing exercises using limitations include the following:

  • Write without using adverbs or adjectives.
  • Write without using the passive voice – no “being verbs” whatsoever. (Also called “E-Prime” writing.)
  • Write a story without using a common letter –  just like Ernest Vincent Wright did .
  • Write a poem where each line has six words.
  • Write without using any pronouns.

Among exercises to improve writing skills, writing with limitations has the clearest benefits. This practice challenges your brain to think about language productively. Additionally, these limitations force you to use unconventional language – which, in turn, makes you write with lucidity, avidity, and invention.

Check Out Our Online Writing Courses!

Ambient grief writing course

Ambient Grief: Writing the Alteration

with Jacinda Townsend

February 21st, 2024

How do we write about moments of painful transition, or grief that the world doesn't recognize as grief? Turn ambient pain into powerful words in this transformational personal essay workshop. 

Writing fiction and nonfiction from memory course

From Memory: Writing Fiction or Memoir from Lived Experience

with Chin-Sun Lee

In this class, you'll use a nearly infinite resource—your own memory—to craft compelling fiction or nonfiction stories.

Even Smaller micro writing course

Even Smaller: Adventures in Short-form Writing

with Tina Barry

Less is more in this bite-sized writing class, where you'll learn how to tell complete stories under the tightest word counts.  

Writing the Memoir-in-Essays

Writing the Memoir-in-Essays

with Margo Steines

February 22nd, 2024

Learn how to tell your story through the memoir-in-essays, a form that allows writers to interweave the facts of their lives in interesting and evocative ways.

From diary to essay writing course

Where the Diary Ends and the Essay Begins

with Shelby Hinte

February 28th, 2024

Start a diary practice and turn it into a mode of writing personal essays in this generative journaling workshop. 

Freewriting & Stream of Consciousness

What do you do when the words just don’t come out? How can you write better if you can’t seem to write at all? One of the best poetry exercises, as well as writing exercises in general, is to start your day by freewriting.

Freewriting, also known as “stream of consciousness writing,” involves writing your thoughts down the moment they come. There’s no filtering what you write, and no controlling what you think: topicality, style, and continuity are wholly unnecessary in the freewriting process. While the idea of freewriting seems easy, it’s much harder than you think – examining your thoughts without controlling them takes a while to master, and the impulse to control what you write isn’t easy to tame. Try these exercises to master the skill:

  • Do a timed freewrite. Start with five minutes.
  • Freewrite until you fill up the entirety of something – an envelope, a receipt, a postcard, etc.
  • Freewrite after meditating.
  • Freewrite off of the first word of today’s newspaper.

Among daily writing exercises, freewriting is one of the best writing exercises. Poets can use freewritten material as inspiration for their poetry. Prose writers can also find inspiration for future stories from the depths of their consciousnesses. Start your writing day with freewriting, and watch your creativity blossom.

Copy What You Read

Plagiarism is still off the table; however, you can learn a lot by paying attention to how other people write. This is what we call “reading like a writer.”

Reading like a writer means paying attention to the craft elements that make an excellent piece of literature work. Good writing requires different writing styles, figurative language, story structures, and/or poetry forms, as well as key word choice.

When you notice these craft elements, you can go ahead and emulate them in your own work. As a fiction writer , you might be drawn to the way Haruki Murakami weaves folklore into his stories, and decide to write a story like that yourself. Or, as a poet, you might be inspired by Terrance Hayes’ Golden Shovel form — enough so that you write a Golden Shovel yourself.

  • Read a favorite poem, and write your own poem in the same poetic form.
  • Blackout poetry: take another poem, cross out words you don’t want to use, circle words you do, and write a poem based on the circled words.
  • Copy a single sentence from a favorite novel, and write a short-short story with it.

Among free writing exercises, this is a great way to learn from the best. The best kinds of exercises to improve writing skills involve building upon the current canon of works — as Isaac Newton said, you achieve something great by “standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Write From Different Perspectives

The conventional advice given to writers is to “write what you know.” We couldn’t disagree with that statement more. The best creative works force both the writer and the reader to consider new perspectives and learn something new; writing from a new point-of-view makes for a great exercise in expanding your creative limits.

Try these ideas as daily writing exercises:

  • Write a story with the same plot, but with two or more perspectives. For example, you could write a lover’s quarrel from two different view points.
  • Write from the point-of-view of a famous historical figure.
  • Write a story or poem from the perspective of an object: a statue, a doll, a roomba, etc.
  • Write from the perspective of a person you dislike.

While playing with perspective makes for a great fiction writing exercise , poets and essayists can do this too. Patricia Smith’s poem “Skinhead,” for example, is a persona piece written from the perspective of a white nationalist, but the poem clearly condemns the speaker’s beliefs.

Thus, perspective writing also works as a poetry exercise and an essay writing practice exercise . If you’re stuck in your own head, try writing in someone else’s!

Write Metaphor Lists

All creative writers need figurative language. While metaphors, similes, and synecdoches are more prominent in poetry , prose writers need the power of metaphor to truly engross their reader. Among both exercises to improve writing skills and fun writing exercises for adults, writing metaphor lists is one of the best writing exercises out there.

A metaphor list is simple. On a notebook, create two columns. In one column, write down only concrete nouns. Things like a pillow, a tree, a cat, a cloud, and anything that can be perceived with one of the five senses.

In the other list, write down only abstract ideas. Things like love, hate, war, peace, justice, closure, and reconciliation — anything that is conceptual and cannot be directly perceived.

Now, choose a random noun and a random concept, and create a metaphor or simile with them. Delve into the metaphor and explain the comparison. For example, you might say “Love is like a pillow — it can comfort, or it can smother.”

Once you’ve mastered the metaphor list, you can try the following ideas to challenge yourself:

  • Create a coherent poem out of your metaphor list.
  • Turn your metaphor list into a short story.
  • Try making lists with a different figurative language device, such as personification, pathetic fallacy, or metonymy.

Any free creative writing exercise that focuses on figurative language can aid your writing immensely, as it helps writers add insight and emotionality to their work. This is an especially great creative writing exercise for beginners as they learn the elements of style and language.

Daily Journaling

Of course, the best way to improve your creative writing skills is simply to write every day. Keeping a daily journal is a great way to exercise your writing mind. By sitting down with your personal observations and writing without an agenda or audience, a daily writing practice  remains one of the best writing exercises , regardless of your genre or level of expertise.

Consider these ideas for your daily journal:

  • Track your mood and emotions throughout the day. Write those emotions in metaphor — avoid commonplace adjectives and nouns.
  • Write about your day from the second- or third-person.
  • Journal your day in verse. Use stanzas, line breaks, and figurative language.
  • Write about your day backwards.
  • Write about your day using Freytag’s pyramid . Build up to a meaningful climax, even if nothing significant seemed to happen today.

Writing Exercises: Have Fun with Them!

Many of these writing exercises might feel challenging at first—and that’s a good thing! You will unlock new ideas and writing strengths by struggling through these creative challenges. The main point is to have fun with them and use them to explore within your writing, without indulging too many monologues from your inner critic.

Are you looking for more exercises to improve your writing skills? Our instructors can offer prompts, illuminating lectures, one-to-one feedback, and more to help you improve your craft. Check out our upcoming creative writing courses , and let’s put these skills to practice.

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Sean Glatch

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Thank you for this. I’ve been stuck for months—more than that, actually, and you’d think that a pandemic stay-at-home would be the perfect time to do some writing. But no. I’m as stuck as ever. In fact, the only time I seem able to write consistently and well is when I’m taking one of your classes! I’m still saving my pennies, but these exercises will hopefully get me writing in the meantime. Thanks again!

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Hi Kathy, I’m glad to hear some of these tips might spark your creativity 🙂 I feel the same way, I was hoping the stay-at-home order might spark some creativity, but we shouldn’t push ourselves too hard – especially in the midst of a crisis.

The best part about writing: all you have to do is try, and you’ve already succeeded. Good luck on your writing endeavors!

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Bravo….!What a great piece! Honestly I learnt a lot here!

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I picked interest in poetry just a week ago after reading a beautiful piece which captivated my mind into the world of writing. I’d love to write great poems but I don’t know anything about poetry, I need a coach, a motivator and an inspiration to be able to do this. This piece really helped me but I will appreciate some more tips and help from you or anyone else willing to help, I am really fervid about this.

Hi Anthony,

Thanks for your comment! I’m so excited for you to start your journey with poetry. We have more advice for poetry writing at the articles under this link: https://writers.com/category/poetry

Additionally, you might be interested in two of our upcoming poetry courses: Poetry Workshop and How to Craft a Poem .

If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at [email protected] . Many thanks, and happy writing!

[…] 24 Best Writing Exercises to Become a Better Writer | writers.com  […]

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Hi, kinsey there. Thanks for giving information. it is a very informative blog and i appreciate your effort to write a blog I am also a writer and i like these type of blogs everyone takes more knowledge to check out my essay writing website

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As a writer, I often struggle to break free from the chains of writer’s block, but this blog has gifted me with a map of inspiration to navigate through those creative storms. It’s like being handed a box of enchanted writing exercises

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  • HOW TO GET STUDENTS WRITING IN 5 MINUTES OR LESS

www.teach2write.com

Writer’s Workshop Middle School: The Ultimate Guide

Feb 23, 2021

Middle school students discussing writing with computer

Writer’s Workshop Middle School: The Ultimate Guide defines the writer’s workshop model, its essential components, pros and cons, step-by-step set-up, and further resources.

writing-workshop-defined

What is the writer’s workshop model?

Writer’s workshop is a method of teaching writing developed by Donald Graves and Donald Murray , amongst other teacher-researchers.

The writer’s workshop provides a student-centered environment where students are given time, choice, and voice in their learning. The teacher nurtures the class by creating and mentoring a community of writers.

So, why does the writer’s workshop in middle school matter?

Students learn more during the writer’s workshop because you can mentor them toward what they need to know and practice, and they have lots of time to write and read in order to improve at their own pace (to an extent). 

For example, if the skill I need to teach is how authors use mood and tone to create meaning , then I would use a mentor text to teach that concept. However, after reading, the focus will not be on answering questions about the text in written form. Instead, I demonstrate how writers choose particular words and the arrangement of those words to create a mood and tone. 

Students then try creating mood and tone with their own pieces of writing. Only after students have practiced their own creations, do I then circle back around to other literature for students to practice literary analysis of mood and tone and its effect on meaning.

Why I focus on writing in the ELA classroom?

I’ve found students are more likely to read assigned texts if I’ve given them a reason to use those texts. That reason? To apply what they learn from mentor texts to their choice writing. Middle school students love to express themselves in creative ways, and by giving students this choice, you build engagement and motivation to continue learning.

The essential components of the writer’s workshop in middle school are:

  • Time to write daily 
  • Student choice 
  • Exploring the writer’s voice
  • Building a community of writers
  • Mentor teaching 

1. Time to Write Daily

Students need a chance to write daily. Various ways you can do this are through Bell Ringers at the beginning of the class, writing during the mini-lesson, and writing projects during workshop time. My students use writing journals because they need a space to think before they face a blank computer screen.

Students do read in my classes. However, their purpose for reading is to become better writers. This reading is either assigned, student choice, or a choice between the assigned reading and student choice, depending on the skill or concept I’m targeting that week. 

This is how I break up our daily writing:

  • Write Now (bell ringer) 
  • Mini-lesson and sharing 
  • Writing/Reading Workshop while I confer with writers 
  • Short turn and talk, log off computers and pack up 

Below is an example of my story writer’s workshop time transformation. This is what I use when we are writing narratives. I’m using a fantasy magic theme here:

transforming-time-in-writing-workshop

2. Student Choice

To keep students motivated to write, you want to build in student choice whenever and wherever possible. Just to clarify, you don’t have to give them choices for everything they do. 

For one thing, that would be as overwhelming as shopping on the cereal aisle at your local grocery store. Just too many choices. 

When I introduce a concept, I may give them a few choices on how students can practice that concept. If I give them a writing assignment, I often allow them ONE choice in topic, genre, audience, or mode of writing. 

If you need students to complete an assignment/activity within a certain time period, tell them ahead of time. Let them know they can turn in an excerpt if they want to write something longer than you expect. 

Of course, this is not always possible. They need to learn how to write within certain time parameters. So, let them practice this through timed writings or word sprints .

One way to help students with choice is to have them do listing activities frequently. They could even have a section in their writing notebooks just for lists of ideas.  

5-tricks-break-writers-block

3. Exploring the writer’s voice

Writer’s voice – that elusive term that most writers have no idea how to achieve until they’ve written for a while, and then finally realize they have it. The ultimate goal for me as a writing teacher is to help my students to find their voice.

I want students to be able to explore what is important to them personally and to explore how they can share this with others. From encouraging students to participate in small group sharing to author’s celebrations, students need the opportunity to see their writing voice matters.

There are so many different ways for kids to publish safely online – Edublogs, Adobe Spark, Google Sites, FlipGrid, etc. 

writing-classroom-2018

4. Building a community of writers in your writer’s workshop for middle school

Middle school students are very social, but even the quiet writers need to socialize often with other writers. This component of the writer’s workshop for middle school is what makes this model an actual workshop.

Students share their writing with each other. Usually, I allow for natural partnerships and groups to form. However, at the beginning of the year, I often pair up students for short activities. This helps everyone feel more comfortable with each other.   

One way I build a community of writers is to play the name game at the beginning of the year. We all stand in a circle and we toss a ball to each other and say our name and all the people who have had the ball tossed to them. It gets fun when students start to forget names. They all start out being self-conscious but end up laughing and smiling.  

Another way to build a community is during share time. I have students write in their notebooks as soon as they come into the classroom as a warm-up, starter activity that I call Write Nows. These Write Nows are projected up on the screen, and students write for 2-5 minutes. After this, I ask students to turn and talk to a neighbor about what they wrote. 

Sometimes this writing is a review of the previous day or another activity that goes along with the skill we are learning. Other times it is a prewriting activity that helps break writer’s block .

Write a Letter to your Students

To help students get to know me as a community member, I write a letter to them and they write back to me. This starts the relationship-building between my students and me within the first week, and I conference with the students about their letters. This also gets them into the swing of a writer’s workshop.

My students love this letter-writing activity that I’ve done every year for the past 24 years. It’s a hit every year and establishes the tone and mood of our workshop.

girl writing in journal with colored pens

5. Teacher as Writing Mentor

One of the most important components of the writer’s workshop in middle school is you – the writing teacher.

To teach writing well, you should write along with your students. Over the years, I’ve written on transparencies, used a document camera, and filmed myself writing. All of these methods work. Generally, I write along with students during the bell-ringer activity, which I call Write Now, but sometimes I’ve prewritten the Write Now.

Additionally, I show students my various writing projects, both published and unpublished, during daily lessons.

My students have seen this blog, heard my podcasts , listened to me read aloud from stories I’ve written and/or published. My students are the ones who pushed me to publish my first YA books . You’ll be amazed at what you come up with and how this creates a bond with your students that lasts a lifetime.

Also, by completing the writing assignments you assign, you’ll be able to empathize with and anticipate the writer’s struggle with each assignment.

terms-to-know-for-writing-workshop

Terms to Know for Writing Workshop

This is not an exhaustive list, but one that will be added to as I find more terms that should be added here.

Activity:   the practice of a skill or process, especially when gaining new knowledge

Assignment: a product created by the student after practicing a skill or process that may be revised up until a particular due date

Bell ringer: a beginning of the period activity (I call these Write Nows in my class)

Blended learning environment: in-person LIVE teaching and learning or digital learning with recorded lessons

Conference: a meeting between teacher and student about their writing

Journal write:  handwriting in a journal for ideas, bell ringers, collecting information, etc.

Mini-lesson: a short 5-10 minute lesson that teaches either a whole or partial skill or process

Mastery Learning: quizzing students on their conceptual knowledge, giving them different activities based on the results of their quizzes – either reteach or extend – and quizzing again. Revisions can also be mastery-learning pieces. 

Mentor texts: well-written, multicultural texts used to demonstrate a literary concept or style

Rubric: a breakdown of the skill into levels of learning – students revise to earn a higher level

pros-and-cons-writing-workshop

Writing Workshop Middle School Pros and Cons

  • Builds student relationships with you and each other – lots of SEL
  • Easier to differentiate for students than the traditional classroom model
  • Grading can be accomplished during conferences
  • Students are more engaged and begin to enjoy writing
  • They might even enjoy reading more, too
  • Mini-lessons are short, sweet and to the point, less prep time for presentations 
  • Breaking through writer’s block
  • Teaching students how to use the technology 
  • Helping students revise if they don’t have access to technology
  • Adapting to technology challenges that arise (switch to writing journals or change Internet browsers) 
  • Deadlines can be difficult to manage sometimes

As far as time management is concerned – one of the things I am going to stress to my students is the need for getting assignments turned in, even if it’s not perfect. I need to be able to keep them to deadlines. So, this year, I’m going to teach my student’s Parkinson’s Law :

parkinsons-law-of-productivity

How to start a writer’s workshop for middle school

These are the steps I’m taking this year to start my writer’s workshop, and I’ve used these for quite a few years now. Some steps may be done simultaneously on the same day. There will be future blog posts about each of these steps.

  • Create a welcoming classroom space.
  • Decide what technology you will be using – hardware and software. If you need help with Canvas LMS, click here .
  • Send out your course syllabus with materials students will need for your course.
  • Create a course outline based on your school’s curriculum guides or state standards. 
  • Plan and post your first 2 weeks of lessons and assignments into your online course (if you are using technology in your course).
  • Establish classroom expectations and routines.
  • Build a classroom community of writers.
  • Show students how to navigate your course online.
  • Write a letter to your students and have them write back to you as their first assignment.
  • Confer with your writers as they are writing their letters and make a list for yourself of things students need to work on with their writing.
  • Set up writing journals and begin writing workshop routines.
  • During mini-lessons, teach the 5 tricks that break writer’s block .
  • Students write in journals to gather ideas and begin writing pieces.
  • Assign a short writing piece and confer with writers during workshop time. 
  • Teach ONE revision strategy during a mini-lesson, depending on your curriculum.
  • Teach ONE editing strategy during a mini-lesson, depending on your curriculum.
  • Allow writers to revise and edit before turning in their first short writing assignment.
  • Celebrate your writers with the Author’s Chair presentations.
  • Continue writer’s workshop by using daily bell ringers, mini-lessons about writing and reading, sharing, writing/reading workshop, conferencing, and turn and talk.
  • Breakaway from the writer’s workshop routine every once in a while to play – escape rooms, read-arounds, watch a movie, celebrate authors, group brainstorm, catching up on overdue assignments.

middle-school-writing-resources-writing-workshop

References for Writing Workshop in Middle School

Atwell, Nancie. In the Middle: A Lifetime of Learning about Writing, Reading, and Adolescence. Heinemann, 2014.

Graves, Donald H. “All Children Can Write.” http://www.ldonline.org/article/6204/  

Lane, Barry. After The End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision. Heinemann, 2015.  

Murray, Donald. “The Listening Eye: Reflections on the Writing Conference”  https://secure.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CE/1979/0411-sep1979/CE0411Listening.pdf

Learning materials for Writing Workshop for Middle School

6th-grade-writing-for-all-reading-standards

Writing Literary & Informative Analysis Paragraphs

Students struggle with writing a literary analysis , especially in middle school as the text grows more rigorous, and the standards become more demanding. This resource is to help you scaffold your students through the process of writing literary analysis paragraphs for CCSS ELA-Literacy RL.6.1-10 for Reading Literature and RI.6.1-10 Reading Information. These paragraphs can be later grouped together into writing analytical essays.

PEEL, RACE, ACE, and all the other strategies did not work for all of my students all of the time, so that’s why I created these standards-based resources.

These standards-based writing activities for all Common Core Reading Literature and Informational standards help scaffold students through practice and repetition since these activities can be used over and over again with ANY literary reading materials.

Included in these resources:

  • step-by-step lesson plans
  • poster for literary skills taught in this resource
  • rubrics for assessments standards-based
  • vocabulary activities and notes standard-based
  • graphic organizers that incorporate analysis of the literature and information standard-based
  • paragraph frames for students who need extra scaffolding standard-based
  • sentence stems to get students started sentence-by-sentence until they master how to write for each standard
  • digital version that is Google SlidesTM compatible with all student worksheets

writing-strategies-bundle-printable-middle-school

List Making: This resource helps students make 27 different lists of topics they could write about.

Sensory Details:  This resource will help you to teach your students to SHOW, not tell. Descriptive writing with a sensory details flipbook and engaging activities that will get your students thinking creatively and writing with style.

Included in this resource are 2 digital files:

  • Lesson Plans PDF that includes step-by-step lesson plans, a grading rubric to make grading faster and easier, along with suggestions for what to do after mind mapping.
  • Google SlidesTM version of the Student Digital Writer’s Notebook allows students endless amounts of writing simply by duplicating a slide.

digital-mind-maps notebook

Recent Posts

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5 Fun Creative Writing Activities

5 Fun Creative Writing Activities

We’ve gathered five fun creative writing activities you can assign to spark a love for writing. Our hope is that these activities will create a workshop-like environment that fosters feedback and collaboration in your writing classroom.

You’ll notice that none of the activities focuses on the technical aspects of writing. Instead, the activities encourage creativity, reflection, and self-expression—hallmarks of meaningful writing.

Minilesson 1: InstaMemory

  • Imagine a favorite memory as a cellphone picture.
  • Finish this sentence starter: My memory snapshot shows . . .
  • Keep writing until you’ve described your memory snapshot in full. Make sure to include who is in it, what is happening, where it is happening, and when it is happening. Note colors, emotions, facial expressions, and other visual details about the moment.
  • Read your memory snapshot. Does your writing create a clear picture?

View Minilesson for Classroom Presentation

Minilesson 2: Back-and-Forth Stories

Writing back-and-forth stories takes a little creativity and a lot of flexibility. How long can you and a partner keep this story going?

An abandoned home sat at the top of the hill. Matt and Brianna knew the rumors about it, but they had to see it for themselves. They tiptoed their way up the steps, and when they reached the door, it swung open. Inside . . .

  • Continue the story. Write for two minutes.
  • Pass the story to a writing partner.
  • The partner continues the story where you left off and writes for two minutes before passing the story back.
  • Continue writing and passing the story every two minutes.
  • How long can you keep the story going? What happens inside the house?

Minilesson 3: Four-Star Food Review

  • List the food items that would make up your ideal fall meal. Include one main dish, one side dish, one dessert, and one drink.
  • Describe the looks, smells, and tastes associated with the meal.
  • Finish this sentence: My meal reminds me of fall, because . . .
  • Use the details you’ve collected to write a review of your meal in one or two paragraphs. Exchange your review with a partner to see how your meals compare.

Minilesson 4: Now how do I get out of this one?

  • List ten chores or tasks you hate doing. Cleaning my room is an example of a chore you might not like.
  • Select four tasks from your list and write a creative excuse explaining why you can’t or haven’t completed each one. Make your excuses as original and wild as possible.
  • When you’ve finished, exchange your work with a classmate. Read and discuss each other’s excuses.

Minilesson 5: Diary of a Famous Figure

  • List three famous people or characters you like or admire.
  • Imagine you are one of the famous figures from your list.
  • As that person, think of what you would do on a summer day.
  • Write a diary entry (or blog post) about your special day as the famous person.
  • Then write additional entries as you so choose.

Want more creative writing ideas? Check out these creative activities.

Teacher Support:

Click to find out more about this resource.

Standards Correlations:

The State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.

  • 110.5.b.12.A
  • LAFS.3.W.1.3
  • 110.5.b.11.B.i
  • 110.5.b.11.B.ii
  • 110.6.b.11.B
  • 110.6.b.12.A
  • LAFS.4.W.1.3
  • 110.6.b.11.B.i
  • 110.6.b.11.B.ii
  • 110.7.b.12.A
  • LAFS.5.W.1.3
  • 110.7.b.11.B.i
  • 110.7.b.11.B.ii
  • 110.22.b.10
  • 110.22.b.11.A
  • LAFS.6.W.1.3
  • 110.22.b.10.A
  • 110.22.b.10.B.i
  • 110.23.b.10
  • 110.23.b.11.A
  • LAFS.7.W.1.3
  • 110.23.b.10.B.i
  • 110.23.b.10.B.ii
  • 110.24.b.10
  • 110.24.b.11.A
  • LAFS.8.W.1.3
  • 110.24.b.10.B.i
  • 110.24.b.10.B.ii

Related Resources

All resources.

  • Drawing a Life Map
  • Writing: Now how do I get out of this one?
  • Writing a 5 W’s Story
  • Writing Back-and-Forth Stories
  • Starting Stories: 5 Great Beginning Strategies
  • Writing Résumés and Cover Letters
  • Practice Test for Reading and Writing Nonfiction
  • Writing Narrative Arguments
  • Writing Personal Essays
  • Inquire Online Middle School Classroom Set
  • Write Away Teacher's Guide
  • Write for College Teacher's Guide
  • Write for College
  • Writers Express

Module 4: Writing in College

Writing assignments, learning objectives.

  • Describe common types and expectations of writing tasks given in a college class

Man writing in a notebook sitting on a couch.

Figure 1 . All college classes require some form of writing. Investing some time in refining your writing skills so that you are a more confident, skilled, and efficient writer will pay dividends in the long run.

What to Do With Writing Assignments

Writing assignments can be as varied as the instructors who assign them. Some assignments are explicit about what exactly you’ll need to do, in what order, and how it will be graded. Others are more open-ended, leaving you to determine the best path toward completing the project. Most fall somewhere in the middle, containing details about some aspects but leaving other assumptions unstated. It’s important to remember that your first resource for getting clarification about an assignment is your instructor—they will be very willing to talk out ideas with you, to be sure you’re prepared at each step to do well with the writing.

Writing in college is usually a response to class materials—an assigned reading, a discussion in class, an experiment in a lab. Generally speaking, these writing tasks can be divided into three broad categories: summary assignments, defined-topic assignments, and undefined-topic assignments.

Link to Learning

Empire State College offers an  Assignment Calculator  to help you plan ahead for your writing assignment. Just plug in the date you plan to get started and the date it is due, and the calculator will help break it down into manageable chunks.

Summary Assignments

Being asked to summarize a source is a common task in many types of writing. It can also seem like a straightforward task: simply restate, in shorter form, what the source says. A lot of advanced skills are hidden in this seemingly simple assignment, however.

An effective summary does the following:

  • reflects your accurate understanding of a source’s thesis or purpose
  • differentiates between major and minor ideas in a source
  • demonstrates your ability to identify key phrases to quote
  • shows your ability to effectively paraphrase most of the source’s ideas
  • captures the tone, style, and distinguishing features of a source
  • does not reflect your personal opinion about the source

That last point is often the most challenging: we are opinionated creatures, by nature, and it can be very difficult to keep our opinions from creeping into a summary. A summary is meant to be completely neutral.

In college-level writing, assignments that are only summary are rare. That said, many types of writing tasks contain at least some element of summary, from a biology report that explains what happened during a chemical process, to an analysis essay that requires you to explain what several prominent positions about gun control are, as a component of comparing them against one another.

Writing Effective Summaries

Start with a clear identification of the work.

This automatically lets your readers know your intentions and that you’re covering the work of another author.

  • In the featured article “Five Kinds of Learning,” the author, Holland Oates, justifies his opinion on the hot topic of learning styles — and adds a few himself.

Summarize the Piece as a Whole

Omit nothing important and strive for overall coherence through appropriate transitions. Write using “summarizing language.” Your reader needs to be reminded that this is not your own work. Use phrases like the article claims, the author suggests, etc.

  • Present the material in a neutral fashion. Your opinions, ideas, and interpretations should be left in your brain — don’t put them into your summary. Be conscious of choosing your words. Only include what was in the original work.
  • Be concise. This is a summary — it should be much shorter than the original piece. If you’re working on an article, give yourself a target length of 1/4 the original article.

Conclude with a Final Statement

This is not a statement of your own point of view, however; it should reflect the significance of the book or article from the author’s standpoint.

  • Without rewriting the article, summarize what the author wanted to get across. Be careful not to evaluate in the conclusion or insert any of your own assumptions or opinions.

Understanding the Assignment and Getting Started

Woman sitting on a sofa with a statistics book next to her, reading another book.

Figure 2 . Many writing assignments will have a specific prompt that sends you first to your textbook, and then to outside resources to gather information.

Often, the handout or other written text explaining the assignment—what professors call the assignment prompt —will explain the purpose of the assignment and the required parameters (length, number and type of sources, referencing style, etc.).

Also, don’t forget to check the rubric, if there is one, to understand how your writing will be assessed. After analyzing the prompt and the rubric, you should have a better sense of what kind of writing you are expected to produce.

Sometimes, though—especially when you are new to a field—you will encounter the baffling situation in which you comprehend every single sentence in the prompt but still have absolutely no idea how to approach the assignment! In a situation like that, consider the following tips:

  • Focus on the verbs . Look for verbs like compare, explain, justify, reflect , or the all-purpose analyze . You’re not just producing a paper as an artifact; you’re conveying, in written communication, some intellectual work you have done. So the question is, what kind of thinking are you supposed to do to deepen your learning?
  • Put the assignment in context . Many professors think in terms of assignment sequences. For example, a social science professor may ask you to write about a controversial issue three times: first, arguing for one side of the debate; second, arguing for another; and finally, from a more comprehensive and nuanced perspective, incorporating text produced in the first two assignments. A sequence like that is designed to help you think through a complex issue. If the assignment isn’t part of a sequence, think about where it falls in the span of the course (early, midterm, or toward the end), and how it relates to readings and other assignments. For example, if you see that a paper comes at the end of a three-week unit on the role of the Internet in organizational behavior, then your professor likely wants you to synthesize that material.
  • Try a free-write . A free-write is when you just write, without stopping, for a set period of time. That doesn’t sound very “free”; it actually sounds kind of coerced, right? The “free” part is what you write—it can be whatever comes to mind.  Professional writers use free-writing to get started on a challenging (or distasteful) writing task or to overcome writer’s block or a powerful urge to procrastinate. The idea is that if you just make yourself write, you can’t help but produce some kind of useful nugget. Thus, even if the first eight sentences of your free write are all variations on “I don’t understand this” or “I’d really rather be doing something else,” eventually you’ll write something like “I guess the main point of this is…,” and—booyah!—you’re off and running.
  • Ask for clarification . Even the most carefully crafted assignments may need some verbal clarification, especially if you’re new to a course or field. Professors generally love questions, so don’t be afraid to ask. Try to convey to your instructor that you want to learn and you’re ready to work, and not just looking for advice on how to get an A.

Defined-Topic Assignments

Many writing tasks will ask you to address a particular topic or a narrow set of topic options. Defined-topic writing assignments are used primarily to identify your familiarity with the subject matter. (Discuss the use of dialect in  Their Eyes Were Watching God , for example.)

Remember, even when you’re asked to “show how” or “illustrate,” you’re still being asked to make an argument. You must shape and focus your discussion or analysis so that it supports a claim that you discovered and formulated and that all of your discussion and explanation develops and supports. 

Undefined-Topic Assignments

Another writing assignment you’ll potentially encounter is one in which the topic may be only broadly identified (“water conservation” in an ecology course, for instance, or “the Dust Bowl” in a U.S. History course), or even completely open (“compose an argumentative research essay on a subject of your choice”).

Pencil sketches of a boo, a magnifying glass, and paper.

Figure 3 . For open-ended assignments, it’s best to pick something that interests you personally.

Where defined-topic essays demonstrate your knowledge of the content , undefined-topic assignments are used to demonstrate your skills— your ability to perform academic research, to synthesize ideas, and to apply the various stages of the writing process.

The first hurdle with this type of task is to find a focus that interests you. Don’t just pick something you feel will be “easy to write about” or that you think you already know a lot about —those almost always turn out to be false assumptions. Instead, you’ll get the most value out of, and find it easier to work on, a topic that intrigues you personally or a topic about which you have a genuine curiosity.

The same getting-started ideas described for defined-topic assignments will help with these kinds of projects, too. You can also try talking with your instructor or a writing tutor (at your college’s writing center) to help brainstorm ideas and make sure you’re on track.

Getting Started in the Writing Process

Writing is not a linear process, so writing your essay, researching, rewriting, and adjusting are all part of the process. Below are some tips to keep in mind as you approach and manage your assignment.

Graphic labeled "The Writing Process." From left to right, it reads: Topic, Prewrite, Evidence, Organize, Draft, Revise, Proofread.

Figure 4 . Writing is a recursive process that begins with examining the topic and prewriting.

Write down topic ideas. If you have been assigned a particular topic or focus, it still might be possible to narrow it down or personalize it to your own interests. 

If you have been given an open-ended essay assignment,  the topic should be something that allows you to enjoy working with the writing process. Select a topic that you’ll want to think about, read about, and write about for several weeks, without getting bored. 

A computer keyboard and fingers.

Figure 5 . Just getting started is sometimes the most difficult part of writing. Freewriting and planning to write multiple drafts can help you dive in.

If you’re writing about a subject you’re not an expert on and want to make sure you are presenting the topic or information realistically, look up the information or seek out an expert to ask questions.

  • Note: Be cautious about information you retrieve online, especially if you are writing a research paper or an article that relies on factual information. A quick Google search may turn up unreliable, misleading sources. Be sure you consider the credibility of the sources you consult (we’ll talk more about that later in the course). And keep in mind that published books and works found in scholarly journals have to undergo a thorough vetting process before they reach publication and are therefore safer to use as sources.
  • Check out a library. Yes, believe it or not, there is still information to be found in a library that hasn’t made its way to the Web. For an even greater breadth of resources, try a college or university library. Even better, research librarians can often be consulted in person, by phone, or even by email. And they love helping students. Don’t be afraid to reach out with questions!

Write a Rough Draft

It doesn’t matter how many spelling errors or weak adjectives you have in it. Your draft can be very rough! Jot down those random uncategorized thoughts. Write down anything you think of that you want included in your writing and worry about organizing and polishing everything later.

If You’re Having Trouble, Try F reewriting

Set a timer and write continuously until that time is up. Don’t worry about what you write, just keeping moving your pencil on the page or typing something (anything!) into the computer.

Contribute!

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Department of English

First-Year Writing

Assignment guidelines.

notebook

An assignment prompt for a First-Year Writing course should a) establish the context for student writing, b) define a goal or set of goals (as well as parameters) for the student’s writing, and c) provide explicit information about how the writing project will be evaluated. There are other things an assignment prompt might do, but we would like to emphasize these three: context, writing tasks and goals, and evaluative criteria.

  • Context . Context includes the familiar statements of where the class conversation and writing has led or what questions or problems have been set up by the readings. Context might introduce key vocabulary or concepts, and it might remind students of materials that have been discussed in class that may be relevant to this assignment. But context can also include suggestions about what is at stake in addressing these questions and where the inquiry may lead.
  • Writing tasks and goals . The assignment prompt should provide specific, feasible goals for the student’s project. In addition to spelling out a chief goal for the thinking required of students (“examine race as a factor of identity”), the prompt should make explicit mention of the specific writing tasks that will serve that goal (“introduce and defend a term that Appiah doesn’t use but that you think belongs in this conversation”). These writing tasks often involve some consideration of genre, audience, or other elements of rhetoric.
  • Evaluative criteria . While we discourage you from using a rigid, scaled rubric, we ask that you provide a description of what you will be looking for in student writing and how you will be defining success. This might be a useful place to address the questions of why you’re asking for this work, who the intended audience is, and what components are required.  In a recent review of assignment prompts, it was evaluative criteria that were most likely to be missing .

Finally, we’ve found that the best assignment prompts are usually about one page in length. Some instructors provide more context or additional details about process, calendar, or options that take the assignment sheet onto additional pages, which is fine. Nevertheless, do what you can to outline the gist of the project as succinctly and clearly as possible. (And, by the way, please remember to put your name on your assignment materials.)

Access our Database of Assignments here .

SAMPLE ASSIGNMENT:

Emma Burris-Janssen

English 1011.009: Writing through Literature

Second Essay Assignment

emma

 Image by Lucinda Schreiber for NPR

For this assignment, you should select a few texts from the growing class archive, which includes the following texts:

Chapter 2 of Narrative Medicine by Rita Charon

Excerpt from The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

“Art” by Eric Nelson

“Flu Shot” by David Watts

“The Caves of Lascaux” by Miriam Karmel

“(Un)Body Double: A Rhapsody on Hairless Identity” by Jane E. Schultz

“Devil’s Bait” by Leslie Jamison

“The Road to Carville” by Pat Tompkins

W;t (the film version based on Margaret Edson’s play)

“In the Operating Room” by Mary Borden

Please feel free to draw on others’ essay drafts and illness narratives (with proper citation, of course) where helpful.

In this part of the course, we have been focusing on the gaps that exist within healthcare: gaps in communication, empathy, expectations, experience, knowledge, and the self (just to name a few).

What I’d like you to do in this essay is to explore one of these moments of division – one of the moments when communication breaks down, when we see the limitations of empathy, when we are forced to acknowledge the limitations of our knowledge about the complexities of the body and the self. In other words, where do you see a gap in healthcare? Why do you think this gap exists? What can be done to bridge it? Can it be bridged? Should it be bridged? Develop an essay that features this gap and articulates an argument, engaged with our readings, that you think provides a fresh way to view this situation in healthcare and the stakes involved for different parties and communities at large.

As always, when I am responding to, evaluating, and grading your essays, I will primarily be looking for the following things: (1) evidence of your close and considered engagement with your source material and with the terms of the assignment and (2) a clear sense of your contribution to this ongoing discussion.

Some Logistical Considerations

This essay should be seven pages long and should be set in Times New Roman, 12-point font. Your paper should also have an MLA header, an engaging title, page numbers, one-inch margins, and it should be stapled whenever submitted in hard copy.

Wednesday, October 8: Post your first draft on our HuskyCT Discussion Board by 9 am.

Thursday, October 9-Tuesday, October 21: In-class workshopping of Essay 2; everyone should attend these workshops prepared to assist in the peer review process.

Tuesday, October 28: The final draft of your essay is due by class time ; please post your final draft on our HuskyCT Discussion Board by 1 pm.

"What news from the sea?"

The fish replied: "I have a lot to say, but my mouth is full of water." - Armenian proverb

The San Diego, California shoreline. Credit: Frank McKenna

Science Marches On

News & events.

Explore the most recent news about AIBS's initiatives, programs, resources, and events.

  • action-alerts
  • announcements
  • peer-review

events, workshops · Feb 22, 2024

Writing for impact and influence.

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”

— -C. J. Cherryh

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has heard a common refrain from faculty, scientists, government and private sector executives, and everyone in between: Scientists are increasingly responsible for public engagement and business writing, yet they are rarely given the tools they need to succeed.

AIBS is responding by re-offering our professional development program designed to help scientists, including graduate students, hone their written communication skills to increase the impact and influence of their message. This course complements AIBS’s highly successful Communications Boot Camp for Scientists, which focuses on oral communication.

Writing for Impact and Influence provides practical instruction and hands-on exercises that will improve the participant’s general writing proficiency. The program will provide participants with the skills and tools needed to compose scientific press releases, blog posts, memoranda, and more, with a focus on the reader experience. Each product-oriented session will have an assignment (deadlines are flexible), with feedback from the instructor. The course is interactive, and participants are encouraged to ask questions and exchange ideas with the instructor and other participants. Each session is also recorded and shared with all participants to accommodate scheduling conflicts.

Who Should Take the Course?

  • Individuals interested in furthering their professional development by augmenting their writing skills.
  • Graduate students and early-career professionals interested in increasing their marketability to employers.
  • Individuals interested in more effectively informing and influencing segments of the public, supervisors, policymakers, reporters, organizational leaders, and others.

Sample Topics

  • Press releases and writing for the media
  • Blogging and social media campaigns
  • Writing for professional audiences
  • One-pagers and writing for stakeholders
  • Action/decision memoranda

Participant Requirements

Internet access, email account, and computer audio and video capabilities.

Course Structure

The course consists of six 90-minute online modules conducted live and subsequently archived online for participant review. Modules are spaced at weekly intervals to allow time for assignment completion. Live attendance is recommended but not required, and the instructor can be contacted by email at any time during the course.

Assignments

A writing assignment will be given in each of the first five courses. Students will receive timely feedback on their assignments.

Certificate of Completion

Individuals who actively participate in and complete the full course will receive a certificate recognizing that they have completed a nine-hour professional development course on business writing for scientists.

Save the date. This course will take place in Summer of 2024. The course sessions will be held weekly on Wednesday.

The start of the course is to be determined. The subsequent course sessions will be held weekly on Wednesday. All live courses will begin at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time. Recorded programs will be available to participants after the live session.

Registration

Space is limited and the course will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration is required.

A non-refundable $100 deposit is due at the time of registration. Individuals will be billed for the balance prior to the course.

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Guest Essay

The Most Important Writing Exercise I’ve Ever Assigned

An illustration of several houses. One person walks away from a house with a second person isolated in a window.

By Rachel Kadish

Ms. Kadish is the author of the novel “The Weight of Ink.”

“Write down a phrase you find abhorrent — something you yourself would never say.”

My students looked startled, but they cooperated. They knew I wouldn’t collect this exercise; what they wrote would be private unless they chose to share it. All that was required of them was participation.

In silence they jotted down a few words. So far, so good. We hadn’t yet reached the hard request: Spend 10 minutes writing a monologue in the first person that’s spoken by a fictitious character who makes the upsetting statement. This portion typically elicits nervous glances. When that happens, I remind students that their statement doesn’t represent them and that speaking as if they’re someone else is a basic skill of fiction writers. The troubling statement, I explain, must appear in the monologue, and it shouldn’t be minimized, nor should students feel the need to forgive or account for it. What’s required is simply that somewhere in the monologue there be an instant — even a fleeting phrase — in which we can feel empathy for the speaker. Perhaps she’s sick with worry over an ill grandchild. Perhaps he’s haunted by a love he let slip away. Perhaps she’s sleepless over how to keep her business afloat and her employees paid. Done right, the exercise delivers a one-two punch: repugnance for a behavior or worldview coupled with recognition of shared humanity.

For more than two decades, I’ve taught versions of this fiction-writing exercise. I’ve used it in universities, middle schools and private workshops, with 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds. But in recent years openness to this exercise and to the imaginative leap it’s designed to teach has shrunk to a pinprick. As our country’s public conversation has gotten angrier, I’ve noticed that students’ approach to the exercise has become more brittle, regardless of whether students lean right or left.

Each semester, I wonder whether the aperture through which we allow empathy has so drastically narrowed as to foreclose a full view of our fellow human beings. Maybe there are times so contentious or so painful that people simply withdraw to their own silos. I’ve certainly felt that inward pull myself. There are times when a leap into someone else’s perspective feels impossible.

But leaping is the job of the writer, and there’s no point it doing it halfway. Good fiction pulls off a magic trick of absurd power: It makes us care. Responding to the travails of invented characters — Ahab or Amaranta, Sethe or Stevens, Zooey or Zorba — we might tear up or laugh, or our hearts might pound. As readers, we become invested in these people, which is very different from agreeing with or even liking them. In the best literature, characters are so vivid, complicated, contradictory and even maddening that we’ll follow them far from our preconceptions; sometimes we don’t return.

Unflinching empathy, which is the muscle the lesson is designed to exercise, is a prerequisite for literature strong enough to wrestle with the real world. On the page it allows us to spot signs of humanity; off the page it can teach us to start a conversation with the strangest of strangers, to thrive alongside difference. It can even affect those life-or-death choices we make instinctively in a crisis. This kind of empathy has nothing to do with being nice, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Even within the safety of the page, it’s tempting to dodge empathy’s challenge, instead demonizing villains and idealizing heroes, but that’s when the needle on art’s moral compass goes inert. Then we’re navigating blind: confident that we know what the bad people look like and that they’re not us — and therefore we’re at no risk of error.

Our best writers, in contrast, portray humans in their full complexity. This is what Gish Jen is doing in the short story “Who’s Irish?” and Rohinton Mistry in the novel “A Fine Balance.” Line by line, these writers illuminate the inner worlds of characters who cause harm — which is not the same as forgiving them. No one would ever say that Toni Morrison forgives the character Cholly Breedlove, who rapes his daughter in “The Bluest Eye.” What Ms. Morrison accomplishes instead is the boldest act of moral and emotional understanding I’ve ever seen on the page.

In the classroom exercise, the upsetting phrases my students scribble might be personal (“You’ll never be a writer,” “You’re ugly”) or religious or political. Once a student wrote a phrase condemning abortion as another student across the table wrote a phrase defending it. Sometimes there are stereotypes, slurs — whatever the students choose to grapple with. Of course, it’s disturbing to step into the shoes of someone whose words or deeds repel us. Writing these monologues, my graduate students, who know what “first person” means, will dodge and write in third, with the distanced “he said” instead of “I said.”

But if they can withstand the challenges of first person, sometimes something happens. They emerge shaken and eager to expand on what they’ve written. I look up from tidying my notes to discover students lingering after dismissal with that alert expression that says the exercise made them feel something they needed to feel.

Over the years, as my students’ statements became more political and as jargon (“deplorables,” “snowflakes”) supplanted the language of personal experience, I adapted the exercise. Worrying that I’d been too sanguine about possible pitfalls, I made it entirely silent, so no student would have to hear another’s troubling statement or fear being judged for their own. Any students who wanted to share their monologues with me could stay after class rather than read to the group. Later, I added another caveat: If your troubling statement is so offensive, you can’t imagine the person who says it as a full human being, choose something less troubling. Next, I narrowed the parameters: No politics. The pandemic’s virtual classes made risk taking harder; I moved the exercise deeper into the semester so students would feel more at ease.

After one session, a student stayed behind in the virtual meeting room. She’d failed to include empathy in her monologue about a character whose politics she abhorred. Her omission bothered her. I was impressed by her honesty. She’d constructed a caricature and recognized it. Most of us don’t.

For years, I’ve quietly completed the exercise alongside my students. Some days nothing sparks. When it goes well, though, the experience is disquieting. The hard part, it turns out, isn’t the empathy itself but what follows: the annihilating notion that people whose fears or joys or humor I appreciate may themselves be indifferent to all my cherished conceptions of the world.

Then the 10-minute timer sounds, and I haul myself back to the business of the classroom — shaken by the vastness of the world but more curious about the people in it. I put my trust in that curiosity. What better choice does any of us have? And in the sanctuary of my classroom I keep trying, handing along what literature handed me: the small, sturdy magic trick any of us can work, as long as we’re willing to risk it.

Rachel Kadish is the author of the novel “The Weight of Ink.”

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David Nield

17 Tips to Take Your ChatGPT Prompts to the Next Level

5 blue balls riding on 5 randomly arranged curved black tubes against a bright green backdrop

ChatGPT, Google Gemini, and other tools like them are making artificial intelligence available to the masses. We can now get all sorts of responses back on almost any topic imaginable. These chatbots can compose sonnets, write code, get philosophical, and automate tasks.

However, while you can just type anything you like into ChatGPT and get it to understand you. There are ways of getting more interesting and useful results out of the bot. This "prompt engineering" is becoming a specialized skill of its own.

Sometimes all it takes is the addition of a few more words or an extra line of instruction and you can get ChatGPT responses that are a level above what everyone else is seeing—and we've included several examples below.

While there's lots you can do with the free version of ChatGPT, a few of these prompts require a paid ChatGPT Plus subscription —where that's the case, we've noted it in the tip.

ChatGPT can give you responses in the form of a table if you ask. This is particularly helpful for getting information or creative ideas. For example, you could tabulate meal ideas and ingredients, or game ideas and equipment, or the days of the week and how they're said in a few different languages.

Using follow-up prompts and natural language, you can have ChatGPT make changes to the tables it has drawn and even produce the tables in a standard format that can be understood by another program (such as Microsoft Excel).

If you provide ChatGPT with a typed list of information, it can respond in a variety of ways. Maybe you want it to create anagrams from a list of names, or sort a list of products into alphabetical order, or turn all the items in a list into upper case. If needed, you can then click the copy icon (the small clipboard) at the end of an answer to have the processed text sent to the system clipboard.

Screenshot of ChatGPT

Get ChatGPT to respond as your favorite author.

With some careful prompting, you can get ChatGPT out of its rather dull, matter-of-fact, default tone and into something much more interesting—such as the style of your favorite author, perhaps.

You could go for the searing simplicity of an Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver story, the lyrical rhythm of a Shakespearean play, or the density of a Dickens novel. The resulting prose won't come close to the genius of the actual authors themselves, but it's another way of getting more creative with the output you generate.

ChatGPT can really impress when it's given restrictions to work within, so don't be shy when it comes to telling the bot to limit its responses to a certain number of words or a certain number of paragraphs.

It could be everything from condensing the information in four paragraphs down into one, or even asking for answers with words of seven characters or fewer (just to keep it simple). If ChatGPT doesn't follow your responses properly, you can correct it, and it'll try again.

Another way of tweaking the way ChatGPT responds is to tell it who the intended audience is for its output. You might have seen WIRED's videos in which complex subjects are explained to people with different levels of understanding. This works in a similar way.

For example, you can tell ChatGPT that you are speaking to a bunch of 10-year-olds or to an audience of business entrepreneurs and it will respond accordingly. It works well for generating multiple outputs along the same theme.

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Tell ChatGPT the audience it's writing for.

ChatGPT is a very capable prompt engineer itself. If you ask it to come up with creative and effective inputs for artificial intelligence engines such as Dall-E and Midjourney , you'll get text you can then input into other AI tools you're playing around with. You're even able to ask for tips with prompts for ChatGPT itself.

When it comes to generating prompts, the more detailed and specific you are about what you're looking for the better: You can get the chatbot to extend and add more detail to your sentences, you can get it to role-play as a prompt generator for a specific AI tool, and you can tell it to refine its answers as you add more and more information.

While ChatGPT is based around text, you can get it to produce pictures of a sort by asking for ASCII art. That's the art made up of characters and symbols rather than colors. The results won't win you any prizes, but it's pretty fun to play around with.

The usual ChatGPT rules apply, in that the more specific you are in your prompt the better, and you can get the bot to add new elements and take elements away as you go. Remember the limitations of the ASCII art format though—this isn't a full-blown image editor.

Screenshot of ChatGPT

A ChatGPT Plus subscription comes with image generation.

If you use ChatGPT Plus , it's got the DALL-E image generator right inside it, so you can ask for any kind of photo, drawing, or illustration you like. As with text, try to be as explicit as possible about what it is you want to see, and how it's shown; do you want something that looks like a watercolor painting, or like it was taken by a DSLR camera? You can have some real fun with this: Put Columbo in a cyberpunk setting, or see how Jurassic Park would look in the Victorian era. The possibilities are almost endless.

You don't have to do all the typing yourself when it comes to ChatGPT. Copy and paste is your friend, and there's no problem with pasting in text from other sources. While the input limit tops out at around 4,000 words, you can easily split the text you're sending the bot into several sections and get it to remember what you've previously sent.

Perhaps one of the best ways of using this approach is to get ChatGPT to simplify text that you don't understand—the explanation of a difficult scientific concept, for instance. You can also get it to translate text into different languages, write it in a more engaging or fluid style, and so on.

If you want to go exploring, ask ChatGPT to create a text-based choose-your-own adventure game. You can specify the theme and the setting of the adventure, as well as any other ground rules to put in place. When we tried this out, we found ourselves wandering through a spooky castle, with something sinister apparently hiding in the shadows.

Screenshot of ChatGPT

ChatGPT is able to create text-based games for you to play.

Another way to improve the responses you get from ChatGPT is to give it some data to work with before you ask your question. For instance, you could give it a list of book summaries together with their genre, then ask it to apply the correct genre label to a new summary. Another option would be to tell ChatGPT about activities you enjoy and then get a new suggestion.

There's no magic combination of words you have to use here. Just use natural language as always, and ChatGPT will understand what you're getting at. Specify that you're providing examples at the start of your prompt, then tell the bot that you want a response with those examples in mind.

You can ask ChatGPT for feedback on any of your own writing, from the emails you're sending to friends, to the short story you're submitting to a competition, to the prompts you're typing into the AI bot. Ask for pointers on spelling, grammar, tone, readability, or anything else you want to scrutinize.

ChatGPT cleared the above paragraph as being clear and effective, but said it could use a call to action at the end. Try this prompt today!

Screenshot of ChatGPT

Get ChatGPT to give you feedback on your own writing.

In the same way that ChatGPT can mimic the style of certain authors that it knows about, it can also play a role: a frustrated salesman, an excitable teenager (you'll most likely get a lot of emoji and abbreviations back), or the iconic western film star John Wayne.

There are countless roles you can play around with. These prompts might not score highly in terms of practical applications, but they're definitely a useful insight into the potential of these AI chatbots.

You can type queries into ChatGPT that you might otherwise type into Google, looking for answers: Think "how much should I budget for a day of sightseeing in London?" or "what are the best ways to prepare for a job interview?" for example. Almost anything will get a response of some sort—though as always, don't take AI responses as being 100 percent accurate 100 percent of the time.

If you're using the paid ChatGPT Plus tool, it will actually search the web (with Bing) and provide link references for the answers it gives. If you're using the free version of ChatGPT, it'll mine the data its been trained on for answers, so they might be a little out of date or less reliable.

Your answers can be seriously improved if you give ChatGPT some ingredients to work with before asking for a response. They could be literal ingredients—suggest a dish from what's left in the fridge—or they could be anything else.

So don't just ask for a murder mystery scenario. Also list out the characters who are going to appear. Don't just ask for ideas of where to go in a city; specify the city you're going to, the types of places you want to see, and the people you'll have with you.

Your prompts don't always have to get ChatGPT to generate something from scratch: You can start it off with something, and then let the AI finish it off. The model will take clues from what you've already written and build on it.

This can come in handy for everything from coding a website to composing a poem—and you can then get ChatGPT to go back and refine its answer as well.

You've no doubt noticed how online arguments have tended toward the binary in recent years, so get ChatGPT to help add some gray between the black and the white. It's able to argue both sides of an argument if you ask it to, including both pros and cons.

From politics and philosophy to sports and the arts, ChatGPT is able to sit on the fence quite impressively—not in a vague way, but in a way that can help you understand tricky issues from multiple perspectives.

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COMMENTS

  1. Writing Workshop Activities: Everything You Need to Know

    Offering Choices in Writing Workshop; Fun, Creative Writing Prompts; The Power of Conferences. Another element that makes writing workshop so awesome is the student conferences. This is where you will really see your students grow as writers! If you don't do anything else with writing workshop — at least give conferencing a try. It is a ...

  2. 10 Awesome Writing Workshop Ideas (2024)

    1. Choose a format First, it's important to be clear on who your writing workshop is for. Typically, a writing workshop is focused on the craft itself, and not on the career of being a writer.

  3. 43 Creative Writing Exercises & Games For Adults

    43 Creative Writing Exercises & Games For Adults - Get Inspired! 43 Creative Writing Exercises This page contains a selection of fun creative writing exercises that can be completed solo, or with a group. Some are prompts to help inspire you to come up with story ideas, others focus on learning specific writing skills. The sections are as follows:

  4. 105 Creative Writing Exercises: 10 Min Writing Exercises

    May 14, 2021 You know that feeling when you just don't feel like writing? Sometimes you can't even get a word down on paper. It's the most frustrating thing ever to a writer, especially when you're working towards a deadline. The good news is that we have a list of 105 creative writing exercises to help you get motivated and start writing again!

  5. Types of Writing Lessons (Writing Workshop Ideas)

    Teach a mini-lesson on spelling strategies for unknown words. Do your students get off-task frequently? Teach a mini-lessons showing them how to stay on-task during writing time. Do your students not know what to do when they finish a writing draft? Teach a mini-lesson of the necessary procedures for when students finish a draft.

  6. In-Class Writing Exercises

    Exercises Brainstorming In order to write a paper for a class, students need ways to move from the received knowledge of the course material to some separate, more synthesized or analyzed understanding of the course material.

  7. 8 Creative Writing Exercises to Strengthen Your Writing

    8 Creative Writing Exercises to Strengthen Your Writing Written by MasterClass Last updated: Aug 23, 2021 • 4 min read Learning to write fiction is like training for a marathon. Before you get ready for the main event, it's good to warm up and stretch your creative muscles.

  8. The Best Online Writing Workshops

    The Best Online Writing Workshops. Of course, we're partial to our own workshops at Writers.com. Since 1995 we've offered the best fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book writing workshops around the internet, inspiring thousands of writers to embark on their writing journeys, find their voices, and get published.

  9. ️ 100+ Creative Writing Exercises for Fiction Authors

    Eight. Pick a fiction book from your shelf. Go to page eight and find the eighth sentence on the page. Start with that sentence and write an eight-line poem that connects in some way to your work-in-progress. For instance, write from the POV of a character, or set the poem in a story setting. Don't worry about poetry forms.

  10. Resources for Teaching Fellows

    Teaching Fellows interested in discussing the role of writing in a course, setting up a training workshop, or developing writing assignments and guides should contact Dr. James Herron, Director of the Harvard Writing Project, at [email protected] or call (617) 495-5785. Harvard Writing Project consultants can help teaching fellows learn ...

  11. 5 Writing Workshop Mini Lessons That Shouldn't Be Skipped

    January 12, 2022 | Leave a Comment No matter what time of the year writing workshop starts, these are 5 writing workshop mini lessons that shouldn't be skipped! I find that doing these lessons will start my workshop on the right foot and help students know all about my expectations.

  12. Writing Workshop: How to Set Up a Schedule That Works

    Mini Lesson (5-10 minutes) The mini-lesson introduces the focus skill for the day. This time is used to read mentor text (if applicable) and create an anchor chart. Anchor charts are a great way to keep the skill visible as students move to work independently.

  13. 50 Fantastic Creative Writing Exercises

    For instance, bench pressing while reciting the emperors in a Chinese dynasty. 26. Write a paragraph where a character does a simple action, like turning on a light switch, and make the reader marvel at how strange and odd it truly is. 27. Have a couple fight while playing a board game.

  14. What Is a Writer's Workshop? An Insider's Guide to Attending Writing

    These are events where somebody leads a group of aspiring writers to critique and workshop one another's writing. Often that somebody is a moderately successful writer, or an aspiring writer with a teaching credential. Such a workshop typically lasts an afternoon, or a full day, or is run remotely over the course of several weeks.

  15. Writing Workshop

    Writing Workshop gives teachers the power to assign comprehensive projects in all three writing types outlined in the common core: persuasive, expository, and narrative. Teachers can choose from personal narratives, science fiction stories, research papers, persuasive speeches, and more!

  16. In-Class Workshops

    Several of the workshops are designed to work in conjunction with a class assignment. Please fill out our In-Class Workshop Request Form to request a workshop. Available In-Class Workshops Transitioning to College Writing workshop This workshop is designed mainly for 100-level courses.

  17. 24 of the Best Writing Exercises to Become a Better Writer

    Try these exercises to master the skill: Do a timed freewrite. Start with five minutes. Freewrite until you fill up the entirety of something - an envelope, a receipt, a postcard, etc. Freewrite after meditating. Freewrite off of the first word of today's newspaper. Among daily writing exercises, freewriting is one of the best writing ...

  18. Writer's Workshop Middle School: The Ultimate Guide

    Writer's workshop is a method of teaching writing developed by Donald Graves and Donald Murray, amongst other teacher-researchers. The writer's workshop provides a student-centered environment where students are given time, choice, and voice in their learning. The teacher nurtures the class by creating and mentoring a community of writers.

  19. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    When you are writing an essay for a course assignment, you should make sure you understand what type of claim you are being asked to make. Many of your assignments will be asking you to make analytical claims, which are based on interpretation of facts, data, or sources. Some of your assignments may ask you to make normative claims. Normative ...

  20. 5 Fun Creative Writing Activities

    Bookmark 5 Fun Creative Writing Activities We've gathered five fun creative writing activities you can assign to spark a love for writing. Our hope is that these activities will create a workshop-like environment that fosters feedback and collaboration in your writing classroom.

  21. Writing Assignments

    Writing in college is usually a response to class materials—an assigned reading, a discussion in class, an experiment in a lab. Generally speaking, these writing tasks can be divided into three broad categories: summary assignments, defined-topic assignments, and undefined-topic assignments.

  22. Assignment Guidelines

    Assignment Guidelines. An assignment prompt for a First-Year Writing course should a) establish the context for student writing, b) define a goal or set of goals (as well as parameters) for the student's writing, and c) provide explicit information about how the writing project will be evaluated. There are other things an assignment prompt ...

  23. Writing for Impact and Influence

    Modules are spaced at weekly intervals to allow time for assignment completion. Live attendance is recommended but not required, and the instructor can be contacted by email at any time during the course. Assignments. A writing assignment will be given in each of the first five courses. Students will receive timely feedback on their assignments.

  24. How to Write an Assignment: Structure and Writing Hints

    It makes written task credible for your target audience. Follow the formatting rules and check paper for structure, indents, headers, and fonts. While working with paper's draft, present ideas and do not cut out weak parts yet. The purpose of draft is to include your ideas "as they are" and edit them later.

  25. List of Writer's Conferences and Workshops in North America: Updated

    Writer's conferences give new insights about writing craft, give you encouragement and support, and gives you real actionable advice about the journey of becoming a successful writer. 3. Improve Professional Effectiveness

  26. College Writing Workshop Series

    College Writing is hosting a workshop series in the coming weeks (Feb. 29, Mar. 21, Apr. 4) on three core elements of teaching writing—designing writing assignments, responding to student writing, and evaluating student writing. ... Designing Writing Assignments. This workshop will take place on Thursday, February 29, at 2:00 p.m. in Lubbers ...

  27. Opinion

    For more than two decades, I've taught versions of this fiction-writing exercise. I've used it in universities, middle schools and private workshops, with 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds.

  28. 17 Tips to Take Your ChatGPT Prompts to the Next Level

    You can ask ChatGPT for feedback on any of your own writing, from the emails you're sending to friends, to the short story you're submitting to a competition, to the prompts you're typing into the ...